Crestview’s Tyson Bolenbaugh (32) looks to drive to the basket Thursday night against Tri-Village in the Division IV State Semi-final game. The Knights won 54-50 to advance to Saturday’s State Championship game in Columbus. (Times Bulletin/Brian Bassett)
Crestview’s Tyson Bolenbaugh (32) looks to drive to the basket Thursday night against Tri-Village in the Division IV State Semi-final game. The Knights won 54-50 to advance to Saturday’s State Championship game in Columbus. (Times Bulletin/Brian Bassett)

COLUMBUS – Play 29. That’s been the rallying cry of the undefeated and top-ranked Crestview Knights coming into the Division IV tournament. After a 54-50 win over New Madison Tri-Village on Thursday night at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Crestview will do just that.

The Knights, now 28-0 on the year, will take on Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Crestview stands now just one win away from its first-ever boys basketball state championship.

For the second straight game, Tyson Bolenbaugh was responsible for a crucial three-point play that helped seal a Crestview victory. With 5:55 to play in the game on Thursday night, Bolenbaugh got his defender in the air, absorbed contact, and wound up on the floor, watching as a desperation shot found its way through the net.

Bolenbaugh’s free throw gave the Knights a commanding seven-point lead and clutch free throws from Cam Etzler and Damian Helm salted away the Crestview win.

Crestview hasn’t trailed at halftime often this season, and, after they had jumped out to a 7-2 lead early in the Division IV state semi-finals, it didn’t look like Thursday night would be any different.

Instead, the Tri-Village Patriots stormed back and opened up a seven-point advantage before settling for a 24-19 lead at the break.

Crestview’s offense got started early when senior guard Cam Etzler knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc just 32 seconds into the game. With Etzler adding another field goal later in the period, following four Helm free throws, it looked like Crestview may be in control.

Tri-Village center Tyler Cook had other ideas, however.

Cook’s 6-foot-6 245 lb. frame proved too big to move off inside position and Cook wound up collecting four offensive rebounds in the first half – three of which came on his own miss. When he wasn’t causing havoc in the low post, Cook was feeding it. Three times, Cook got the ball in the high post, only to lob a pass inside to a teammate. Those three possessions resulted in a pair of baskets and a trip to the free throw line.

While the Patriots offense was getting in gear, Crestview’s was stalling. Helm, one of four Division IV Players of the Year, had committed four turnovers in the first 16 minutes, three times being called for traveling after a shot fake.

While the Knights got threes by Etzler, Preston Zaleski and Isiah Simerman in the first half, they shot just 5-for-20 overall.

“We didn’t play the first half we would have liked to,” Crestview head coach Jeremy Best acknowledged. “I think a lot of the credit for that goes to Tri-Village. They are a heck of a basketball team, physically, and we struggled with that a little bit. I think they kind of imposed their will on us in the first half. We weren’t real good in some of our shot selection, and we really didn’t man-up, so to speak, on the defensive end.”

At halftime, coach Best challenged his team, most notably senior center Tyson Bolenbaugh.

“Tri-Village kind of shut me down (in the first half), and I didn’t really know what to do,” Bolenbaugh said. “Coach challenged me, telling me to get engaged – he does that a lot – and I think it really helped.”

Bolenbaugh got himself involved early in the third quarter, knocking down a 12-foot jumper from the right wing to bring the Knights back to within two at 24-22. After a Zaleski steal, Etzler banked in a runner down the left side of the lane.

On the next Crestview possession, Bolenbaugh pushed the Knights’ run to 7-0 and gave the Knights a 26-24 lead with 6:20 to play in the quarter.
Crestview wouldn’t trail again.

“We can’t exactly repeat what Coach said to us in the locker room,” Etzler joked after the game. “He definitely lit a fire under our rear ends. He knows how to motivate us. We forced some turnovers, we got some high-percentage shots, and that ultimately led to us getting back into the game.”

With the Knights leading by a pair, Bolenbaugh asserted himself on the defensive end as well. As Tri-Village junior Damion Cook drove through the lane, Bolenbaugh came from the weak side and swatted away a would-be layup. At the other end of the floor, the senior grabbed an offensive rebound and put it home to make it 30-26.

The Knights would take a six-point advantage to the fourth quarter, building its lead on a Connor Lautzenheiser 3-pointer with a minute to play in the third.

Crestview won the third quarter 15-4 thanks to 6-of-14 shooting. Meanwhile, Tri-Village was held to just 1-for-8 from the floor and turned it over five times.

“I thought, in the second half, we did a good job making them catch the ball in different spots, or just putting enough pressure on them to throw their timing off,” Best noted. “They ended up with 15 turnovers and every one of them was huge.”

Tri-Village wouldn’t go away quietly, however.

As they did in the first half, the Patriots turned to Tyler Cook to keep them in the game. The lefty-shooting senior scored in the low block, then, after a Bolenbaugh bucket, added an 18-foot jumper that brought Tri-Village back to within four.

That’s when Bolenbaugh broke the collective backs of the Patriots.

“At halftime, coaches were telling us to pump fake, because they were leaving their feet a lot,” Bolenbaugh explained. “I don’t really know what happened to it (the shot), but I just pump faked and I saw him jump, so I went into him. There was a lot of luck involved in that one, I just kind of threw it up there.”

“It did, (the three-point play) brought me back to BG, against Wayne Trace, when that happened and I was on the floor and celebrating. Teammates were there to pick me up. It’s an amazing feeling.”

The Knights wound up hitting 22-of-27 free throws for the game. Though Helm was held without a field goal, he converted all 10 of his free throw attempts including 6-for-6 over the final 1:05 of the game.

Crestview finished the game 14-for-47 (37.8 percent) from the floor while Tri-Village hit on 18-of-41 (43.9 percent) of its attempts. The Patriots were held 23 points below their season average and Colton Linkous, who came into the game averaging 19.8 points per night and shooting 48 percent from 3-point range was held to just eight points on 2-of-5 shooting.

A large portion of the credit for that goes to Etzler, who finished with 13 points and five steals.

“Our team defense is pretty good,” Best added. “But we have some individual guys that, philosophically, do a few different things. When we assign a guy to lock a guy down, he (Etzler) is the guy that can do it. He’s done that all through the tournament, and I’m sure we’ll try to find somebody that he can do that against on Saturday, too.”

Yet another co-Player of the Year awaits when Crestview takes on Aquinas. Chances are good Etzler will draw that assignment one more time.

Score by quarters
Crestview 12 7 15 20- 54
Tri-Village 16 8 4 22- 50
Crestview (54)
Preston Zaleski 6, Cam Etzler 13, Connor Lautzenheiser 7, Damian Helm 10, Tyson Bolenbaugh 15, Luke Gibson 0, Brock Rolsten 0, Isaiah Simerman 3, Cain Lautzenheiser 0, Mitchell Rickard 0, Eli Jones 0
Tri-Village (50)
Tyler Vanwinkle 0, Tommy Bell 0, Damion Cook 16, Colton Linkous 8, Tyler Cook 20, Mason McCabe 6