Newark boys basketball falls step behind No. 2 Pickerington Central in rematch

NEWARK — The Newark boys basketball team did not have the luxury of sneaking up on Pickerington Central this time.

The Tigers avenged their only loss of the season Friday, but the Wildcats did not see their nine-game winning streak end without a fight. The Wildcats never lost touch but never got over the hump either, falling 54-42 at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.

"Their defensive pressure really bothered us. We weren't able to get into a flow on offense, which you can tell by the score," Newark coach Jeff Quackenbush said. "We weren't able to put together that run and hit some rhythm 3s. They made us uncomfortable."

Newark (12-3, 4-2) fell a game behind in the Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division standings. Central (12-1, 5-1), which was tied for No. 2 in this week's Division I state poll, led the entire way but never by more than 10 points until a meaningless dunk during the final seconds.

The Wildcats hit six 3-pointers to stay within range. Alex "Sonny" Styles, who has signed to play football next season at Ohio State, however, was a menace at both ends, totaling 10 points and eight rebounds and routinely closing off the Wildcats' driving lanes.

"Our kids fought, competed, but we just struggled to guard them around the basket," Quackenbush said. "They are just so big and so skilled."

Newark, beginning a challenging stretch, is right back in action Saturday, hosting Olentangy Liberty at 6 p.m. in a rematch of last year's district final. The Wildcats visit Reynoldsburg next Friday and have non-league matchups against Pickerington North and Hilliard Bradley ahead, all teams expected to, like Newark, contend for a district title.

Newark sophomore Steele Meister fights through the Pickerington Central defense, scoring on the play and drawing a foul against Alex "Sonny" Styles (24) at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The host Wildcats fell 54-42 in an Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division showdown.
Newark sophomore Steele Meister fights through the Pickerington Central defense, scoring on the play and drawing a foul against Alex "Sonny" Styles (24) at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The host Wildcats fell 54-42 in an Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division showdown.

Despite having just three seniors, Newark's ace in the hole is its pedigree. The roster is filled with players, whose parents have a coaching background.

"We have a lot of really smart guys on our team, coming from home. We all know the game well, and it feeds into the way we play," said junior point guard Grant Burkholder, who scored 11 points against the Tigers.

Sophomore Steele Meister led Newark with 16 points and seven rebounds, again going to toe to toe against Styles as he did in the first meeting.

Senior Grant Somers, who has elevated his offensive game in recent weeks, scored Newark's first seven points. He finished with 11 and three steals.

"I am a parent of two kids, so I have a lot of theories on their game, too, but it has to be the guys who are at practice every day," Quackenbush said. "We have a lot of kids who have grown up in gyms if you think about it. They understand basketball, and that's helped us."

Newark junior Drew Oberholtzer (2) grabs a rebound between teammates senior Grant Somers (25) and sophomore Steele Meister (3) against Pickerington Central at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The host Wildcats fell 54-42 in an Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division showdown.
Newark junior Drew Oberholtzer (2) grabs a rebound between teammates senior Grant Somers (25) and sophomore Steele Meister (3) against Pickerington Central at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The host Wildcats fell 54-42 in an Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division showdown.

Central again struggled from 3-point range, but the Tigers hit two early 3s to get the lead. Joshua Harlan scored a team-high 11 points, and Devin Royal, one of the state's top-rated juniors, added 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats will have to quickly rebound. Quackenbush has reason to be confident they will.

"I just told the kids, 'You have to shake it off and be ready to go play,'" Quackenbush said. "The good news is you get to go play the next day."

ksnyder@newarkadvocate.com

740-973-4541

Twitter: @newarkurt

This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Newark basketball falls step behind Pickerington Central in rematch

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