Most of the senior group has played in state championship games and mid-season tourney title games throughout their careers.
The Cyclones stood tall Saturday against rival Basehor-Linwood in the championship game of the Bobcat Invitational in Basehor. It was the third meeting in the title contest and a rematch of last year’s state championship won by Basehor.
The atmosphere was electric with right at 3,000 fans jammed into the Basehor-Linwood High School gym.
It was a fans delight with several twists and turns along with momentum swings. Ottawa controlled the fourth quarter to edge the Bobcats, 64-59.
“It was two teams that wanted to win,” Ottawa coach Jon McKowen said. “Basehor, on a Saturday night in front of a big crowd, is going to bring their best. We matched them. We matched their big runs. We had a few mental mistakes down the stretch. We made a few more plays.”
Ottawa senior Dallas Natt called it a heavyweight matchup between the two 4A state powers.
“Two gladiators going at it,” he said. “They were just as talented and big as us. We made more shots.
It is a rivalry born out of success by the two programs the past six years. The two teams have met four times in the Bobcat tourney and twice at the state tournament.
“It is kind of crazy,” McKowen said. “[Basehor] has turned into a rival. Everytime we have played, it has been a big game. It has been a huge situation.”
Both teams knew each other well and came up with game plans to slow each other down.
“We knew their players,” Natt said. “We tried to use our info to help us. We guarded Ben Johnson the way we were supposed to guard them. We guarded the little guys like we were supposed to guard them. It was all in the plan.”
The Bobcats guarded Ottawa star Semi Ojeleye tight and usually with multiple defenders. Ottawa set screens and Ojeleye used his strength to go inside.
“The kids did a great job of finding Semi when he was rolling,” McKowen said. “He rolled through four quarters getting doubled and tripled. He battled. His teammates were amazing. They worked hard to get him the ball.
“Our sets were much better.”
Ojeleye finished with 47 points on 13 of 23 from the floor, including 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Cyclones rallied from a 46-43 deficit.
“When we need a basket, he takes it,” Natt said. “We let him try to get him comfortable during the game. Sometimes you have to let him be him. We have to let him take his man one-on-one. We have to be unselfish.”
Ojeleye then in turn shows his unselfishness. He drew nearly the whole Bobcat defense and found an open Dillon Boeh for a layup with 3:15 left to give Ottawa a 58-54 lead.
The senior, who was the tournament most valuable player and scored a tournament record 122 points, showed some emotion.
He found an opening for a thunderous dunk and blocked a big shot late in the game. It brought the fans to their feet and big smile from Ojeleye.
“We feed off of him,” Natt said. “He is not selfish at all. He wants [all of us to] make a play. That is what is great about our team.”
Sophomore guard Tyler Smith played a key role in the fourth quarter with his defense as McKowen went to a three-guard lineup to match Basehor-Linwood.
“What a spark he gave us in the fourth quarter,” McKowen said. “I put him in there for a couple of defensive possessions, I could not take him back off the floor. It was his first big game and he stepped up to the challenge.
“We had to get some pressure on their guards. We kept then out of their sets.”
Natt said Smith has been taking a beating in practice going up against the seniors and showed how much he has learned from it.
McKowen said Natt, who was an all-tournament team selection, is becoming a team leader.
“He has our team clicking right now,” McKowen said. “He has become a good leader. He is getting Tyler Smith in the right spot.”
McKowen and Natt said this tournament will be a benefit down the road.
“It will do wonders down the tournament trail,” McKowen said. “We will have confidence because we pulled two of them off.”
Natt said, “It is gonna make our defense [better]. We are not afraid to go down. We are not afraid to comeback.”
Ottawa (13-0) has this week off and resumes league play Jan. 29 at Spring Hill.
Basehor (59) — Johnson 11, Ogilve 3, Downing 17, Sanders 4, Younger 12, McPherson 12.
Ottawa (64) — Ojeleye 47, Peters 2, Shaffer 3, Natt 8, Boeh 2, Smith 2.