Sectional rout: French sparks Warren boys over Athens 83-61

LOGAN – Warren versus Athens for a Division II sectional championship figured to be an instant classic and a battle to the very end.

The Warriors made sure it wasn’t the latter.

Warren used a 23-2 run in the second quarter, led by six 3-pointers from Evan French, to pull ahead from the Bulldogs and pave the way for an 83-61 victory Friday night in front of an overflowing Jim Myers Gymnasium at Logan High School.

French, who finished with a game-high 37 points, picked up 22 of his markers in the second period to give the Warriors a 44-21 halftime advantage.

“I was just coming off screens,” French explained. “My teammates were all setting me up and I was hitting shots. We knew coming in Athens was tough on defense. We just had to prepare for that and we did really well adjusting.”

French continues to find ways to surprise Warren head coach Blane Maddox.

“He heard a lot about Joey (Burrow) guarding him last year,” Maddox said, referring to Warren’s overtime win against Athens in a regional tournament game last season. “When Evan gets hot like that, nobody really guards him if we get him the ball. Just an incredible player.”

Athens took a 7-0 lead early thanks to a layup and a 3-pointer by Ryan Leuhrman, but a layup and slam dunk on consecutive possessions by Michael Hall plus French’s first basket cut it to 7-6. French put in two more field goals down the stretch of the opening period to give Warren its first lead, 10-9.

At the 6:30 mark of the second quarter, Ibi Watson made a pair of free throws to give the Bulldogs their final lead of the night, as French quickly answered with his first trey to put Warren on top 14-12. After Watson assisted Joe Burrow on a layup, French scored eight straight points, six on two 3s, to give Warren a 22-14 lead. Blake Kidder followed with two foul shots, Reece Patton knocked down a pull-up jumper and then French laid one in as part of 14 unanswered points for the royal blue and white. After Burrow made a basket, Warren poured in nine more unanswered points, six on two more French triples, giving Warren a 19-point cushion, 37-16, with under two minutes left in the first half. For good measure, French would drop in another 3, this one from way beyond the arch, followed later by a pair of field goals from Hall, to extend the lead to 44-21 at the break.

“We talk about how, when we get hot like that, we can beat anybody,” Maddox said.

“When we shoot and play like that, we feel like we can beat anybody. Tonight, Athens ran into a buzz saw in the first half.”

“We’ve really been coming together well in practice,” French added. “Shooting well, rebounding. It all kind of came together in the second quarter.”

Athens was never able to get going in the second half, at least not enough to put a dent in Warren’s lead.

The Bulldogs were held to just 33 percent (19-for-58) shooting in the game, including 4-for-24 (16.7 percent) from beyond the arch. Warren, on the other hand, was scorching from the floor, hitting 51 percent (28-of-55) of its shot attempts.

Hall scored 21 while Kidder added nine to complement French’s offensive outburst for Warren. Kidder led the Warriors with nine rebounds while Aaron Mazurkiewicz contributed five assists and three steals.

Watson led Athens with 18 points while Burrow tallied 12. Burrow paced the Bulldogs with eight boards. Watson finished with six dimes.

“We wanted to shut those two down,” Maddox said.

“We just wanted to make somebody else score. That was the plan. We got them into this stage where they had to score quick and they had to press and that’s just not what they really like to do I don’t think.”

In Warren’s regional semifinal victory over Athens last season, French exploded for 27 points combined in the fourth quarter and overtime to help lead a Warren comeback. This time around, French wasted no time getting going.

“It got us in a groove,” French said of the early offensive surge. “We just kind of rolled off that the rest of the game. We knew once we held a lead it would be hard for them to get it back.”

The Warriors (20-3) await Saturday’s result between Washington Court House and Circleville to see who they will play next Friday, Feb. 28, in a district semifinal at the Convocation Center at Ohio University.