Thursday’s meeting between Buchtel and Garfield Heights was a game circled on calendars all season.
Buchtel, led by Chris Livingston, and Garfield Heights, led by Meechie Johnson, was a clash among two of Ohio’s top underclassmen. Both teams last participated in the Flyin’ To The Hoop tournament in Dayton, Ohio where Livingston and Johnson both caught the eyes of the national spotlight.
Buchtel, the host team, controlled the majority of the first half. The Griffins did a great job of trapping the Garfield Heights ball-handlers, disrupting their offense early-on.
Chris Livingston put on a show in the first half displaying a new-found comfort level on the court. Livingston made several eye-opening moves in the first quarter, including a 4-point play and a dribble drive ending in a graceful spin and finish at the rim.
Buchtel went into the half with a 35-23 lead, and all the momentum as Livingston missed a fast break windmill right before intermission which nearly erupted an already electrifying crowd.
To start the third period, Livingston was extremely active, securing rebounds, defending, getting to the line and even reaching into his bag of tricks for a step back 3-pointer. Miami Heat guard Derrick Jones Jr. and center Bam Adebayo made a late appearance in the third quarter in the midst of Livingston entertaining the crowd.
Meechie Johnson would not be outdone as he forced a steal and threw a no-look lob off the backboard to Brison Waller, energizing the Garfield Heights bench.
In the second half, Garfield Heights made adjustments and double-teamed Livingston forcing him to become a playmaker. Livingston excels against double teams, as he is a great ball-handler and his size gives him the ability to see over smaller defenders.
Buchtel led by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter, as it appeared as if the game could get out of hand. Garfield Heights slowly began inching closer as Brison Waller took control with guards Meechie and Sonny Johnson forced to give up the ball.
Johnson hit a three, created a steal in the backcourt, and then completed the play with an and-1. At one point, it was a 16-point advantage for Buchtel, but that lead dwindled to five as Garfield Heights clawed back to trail 65-60 with three minutes remaining.
Another triple, followed by a trip to the free throw line propelled Garfield Heights to a 3-point advantage with just over 30 seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, Buchtel left empty-handed which led to a Garfield Heights rebound and trip to the free thrown line with 11 seconds remaining.
After both free throws came up short, Buchtel collected the rebound with a chance. The ball found it’s way to Chris Livingston who pump faked one defender in the air, before nailing a game-tying three as the fourth quarter buzzer sounded.
In overtime, Garfield Heights regained control. With the Bulldogs up by three, Buchtel tried to tie the game. A long rebound led to a fall-away three in the corner by sophomore Noah Peeples that tied the game back at 77.
With only seconds remaining in overtime, Garfield Heights freshman Sonny Johnson Jr. raced down the floor and missed a game-winning layup, but Brison Waller tipped-in the miss, giving the Bulldogs a two-point lead.
Buchtel failed to advance the ball up the court as time expired. Garfield Heights escaped with a 79-77 overtime victory.
Meechie Johnson led Garfield Heights with 31 points and 5 assists, Brison Waller notched 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Sonny Johnson Jr added 13 points and 6 assists. Chris Livingston scored a game-high 32 points with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks, while Ronnell Perie recorded 15 points and 6 assists.
Meechie Johnson spoke about his performance after the game.
“I was just thinking, takeover the game or this could get ugly,” Johnson said. “I knew I had to get going and my teammates trusted me, and we were able to get a victory.”
The dramatic come-from-behind victory, marked the second consecutive game in which Garfield Heights needed some late-game heroics to win. In the team’s last contest, Garfield Heights rallied after trailing most of the game. Johnson scored five points in the game’s final 30 seconds to defeat Wayne 64-62.
— FlyinToTheHoop (@FlyinToTheHoop) January 21, 2019
“It does,” Johnson said when asked if the game against felt similar to the game against Wayne. “Down 17, last game, with three minutes left…. Down 16, this game with three minutes left… It took overtime this time, so it took a lot more energy, but I’m just glad we got the win.”
Also, it turns out that the appearance of Derrick Jones Jr. and Bam Adebayo wasn’t just a coincidence. Johnson has a relationship with the two Miami Heat players from his off-season workouts.
It was a blessing,” Johnson said. “I have a connection with Derrick Jones Jr., Terry Rozier and those guys from training in the summer. I tried to go out and perform for those guys, so I wouldn’t be wasting their time.
For Northeast Ohio, this is the first time that two young, talented teams faced off. Garfield Heights may have won the game on paper, but the entire state won the night.
Two stars were born at a gym in Akron.
Darnell Jones is a contributor for Mars Reel based in Northeast Ohio