Blair-Haraway matchup still going strong

·8 min read

Mar. 20—ASHLAND — Some things never change.

In the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Tournament championship game on March 4, there were two familiar sequences involving Simon Blair and Brandon Haraway.

Each player stole the ball from the other in the matchup between NCAA Division II Ashland and Malone universities. Both steals led to 3-pointers for each team.

In the second half, Blair and Haraway also made consecutive 3s for the Pioneers and Eagles.

To any followers of high school basketball in Huron County, those plays were routine.

"We've been through some battles," Blair said. "I've played against Brandon at some level ever since I was a little kid."

Blair, a 2020 South Central graduate, and Haraway, a 2019 Norwalk graduate, met three times in a 37-day span this season as starters for the Pioneers and Eagles.

The cumulative score in those three games was 245-240. Malone won the two regular season games by nine points — only to see Ashland win the GMAC title game and head to the NCAA Tournament.

"It's really cool to see," Haraway said. "Playing against a local guy again, it's almost a little validation, knowing what we are both doing and where we came from."

In those three head-to-head games, Blair and Haraway each scored 38 points. With both former standouts now college starters, the matchups harkened back to a pair of high school meetings that saw Haraway hold a 43-34 scoring edge over Blair.

"It was not even arguable — the separation that they had on during the floor those nights, but throughout their high school careers," said Brett Seidel, Blair's high school coach at South Central.

"You could just tell there was something different there. You knew that was going to lead to bigger things for both players."

High school meetings

The first-ever meeting between the Trojans and Truckers was on Dec. 27, 2017 in Greenwich.

The game itself was never a contest, as Norwalk cruised to a 65-36 win. Haraway had 13 points and nine rebounds for the Truckers, while Blair had 12 points for the Trojans.

South Central finished 15-8 overall and 12-2 in the Firelands Conference, sharing the league title with Western Reserve. Blair averaged 19.3 points per game and won his first of three FC Player of the Year awards.

Meanwhile, Haraway helped the Truckers go 11-4 in their last 15 games in a 14-11 finish that saw him average 18.4 points per game while earning SBC Lake first team honors.

With each player a year older, it set the stage for a huge meeting in the 2018-19 season.

The Truckers entered the Dec. 29, 2018 game with a 5-2 record. They fell to Huron in the season opener and to Clyde by a point as three starters worked their way back into basketball shape after a state semifinal run in football.

The Trojans were 8-1, with a 62-49 loss to 17-win Waynedale at the College of Wooster.

Norwalk built an early 15-9 lead after one quarter, but by the end of the third quarter, the game was tied at 43.

Haraway had 22 points through three quarters to Blair's 13. After a 16-16 stalemate in the fourth quarter, the game went into overtime.

In the four-minute extra session, the Truckers scored 17 points — more than they had in any of the eight-minute four quarters — to claim the 76-69 win.

Haraway had made four threes and was 8-of-10 at the free-throw line for a game-high 30 points. Blair countered with 22 points, also with four 3s.

"Brandon was hard to guard, then made his semi-regular drives to the baskets and slam dunks," former Norwalk head coach Steve Gray recalled. "He was just a little bit better than everyone on the floor that night. But it was like that a lot of nights."

Both Blair and Seidel agreed.

"We kind of looked at Norwalk as a measuring stick game," Blair said. "There was no stopping him, but we weren't alone in that aspect."

After the game, Seidel said in his media interviews that he thought NCAA Div. I schools had missed out on Haraway.

"Because of his size alone, not just his skill and athleticism," Seidel said. "But his size separated him, and I thought some Division I schools missed out."

After that game, the Truckers went on to a 23-4 season, winning the SBC Lake Division title and a Div. II district championship. They fell, 61-54, to Columbus South in a regional semifinal at Bowling Green State University.

Haraway was the Northwest District Player of the Year, an All-Ohio first team selection and a Mr. Basketball finalist. His 1,179 career points are sixth all-time at Norwalk, while his 522 points that season (20.8 average) are fourth.

Meanwhile, Blair helped the Trojans to their only district title over the past half-century that same March. South Central (21-5) fell to New Middletown Springfield, 62-50, in a regional semifinal at the Canton Fieldhouse.

Gray admitted he made a mistake by attempting to trap Blair as a senior. He broke open a two-point game at halftime with 23 points on 11-of-17 shooting in a 62-45 win at Norwalk on Jan. 25, 2020. He also had five assists.

"South Central had the best player on the floor tonight, and he lived up to his billing," Gray said after the game. "The thing that is most impressive about him is his ability to make everyone around him better.

"I think Malone is getting a great player, and he's going to have a great career there."

Without being reminded of those comments, Gray had similar thoughts when recounting the game.

"Simon could get the ball to any spot on the floor he wanted," he said. "He was always in complete control. He could dribble through a trap, pull up and shoot with ease — but then he could drive to the rim and you either had to help off or try and deny him."

Blair was All-Ohio second team in 2019 and first team in 2020. He is the all-time points leader (1,771) at South Central and second (525) and third (511) in a single-season.

The college years

Haraway's impact at Ashland was felt immediately. He was the GLIAC Conference Tournament MVP, and by his third season, had eclipsed 1,000 career points.

It took Blair until this season to crack the Malone lineup. But this season, both players started every game they were available to play for their teams.

On Jan. 26, the Pioneers rallied from a 15-point deficit with 12-plus minutes left to claim an 80-78 win over the Eagles. That included Blair draining a big 3 with 2:01 left on a night he finished with nine points and six rebounds.

Haraway had seven points and six assists in the loss.

Less than a month later, the two met in Ashland on Feb. 23. Blair scored the first six points of the second half to give the Pioneers a 21-point lead — only to see the Eagles rally to tie the game in about an eight-minute span.

But Malone recovered — and it was Blair who put the game away with a layup with 46 seconds left. He then made a free throw with 19 seconds left to keep the Pioneers up six in the 87-80 win.

Blair finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, while Haraway countered with 17 points, four assists and four steals in the defeat.

With the way both games went, it almost seemed inevitable for a third meeting. That happened once Malone upset Tiffin and Walsh to reach the GMAC Tournament championship game at Walsh University.

This time, Haraway and Blair traded 3s — and it was the Pioneers who led 75-61 on the Blair triple with 6:24 left.

But Haraway — already the GMAC Player of the Year — added another conference tournament MVP to his accolades. He scored all 14 of his points in the second half as AU rallied for an 82-78 win and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

In the defeat, Blair had scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including five 3s.

Just like the close scores of the three games, the stat lines for the two area standouts were eerily similar.

Blair scored 38 points on 15-of-25 shooting with five rebounds, eight assists and four steals vs. Ashland. Haraway countered with 38 points on 16-of-32 shooting with nine rebounds, 12 assists and six steals.

"They played three great games and I was fortunate to see them in-person for a couple of those," Seidel said. "They were both shining for their teams. Watching them, I couldn't be happier ... because they are two wonderful kids on top of it all."

And with Haraway back for a fifth season next year, and Blair returning as a senior — more chapters await the two area grads.

"Brandon is just a great guy and his resume speaks for itself," Blair said. "He's an amazing player. I can't give anything but credit to him for the guy and player he is.

"It's been fun going against him, and I definitely look forward to more games down the road."

Added Haraway, "We both came from some little towns and are here doing are thing still at the Division II level. It's safe to say we're both enjoying it."