FAIRBORN — When the proverbial lights shine brightest, some players step up to the challenge, while others succumb to the pressure of the moment.
In Saturday afternoon’s Division 1 Southwest District championship game at Wright State University’s Nutter Center, the spotlight was focused solely on Wilmington senior Jarron Cumberland.
Wilmington led Mason by a single point with just more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, and every set of eyes in the arena were zoned in on the University of Cincinnati-bound forward.
If there ever was a time when a team’s best player needed to answer a challenge, this was the ideal moment.
Rising to the occasion like only a potential Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio could, Cumberland single-handily took the game into his own hands, rattling off 23 points in the final 10 minutes to spearhead a game-sealing run that secured Wilmington’s first district title since 2009.
The Hurricane clung to to a 28-27 lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter. When Cumberland got done with his magic, Wilmington was cutting down the Nutter Center nets after a 63-38 triumph over the heretofore 22-1 Comets. He finished with his typical stat stuffing line of 35 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. He was efficient as always on the offensive end, hitting on 11-of-21 shots, and more importantly, draining 9-of-10 from the charity stripe to ice the game down the stretch.
“We began to move the ball better as a team during that run and I was fortunate enough to knock down some big shots, Cumberland said. “Once I knocked down those couple of 3s, it got everyone else hyped up and we were able to take control of the game.”
In addition to leading his Hurricane squad to the district crown, Cumberland also reached an individual milestone, surpassing former Ohio State star and NBA player Jimmy Jackson on the all-time prep scoring list in the state of Ohio. Cumberland broke into the top 20 on the star-studded roster and unofficially sits at 2,344 career points, good enough for 18th on the list.
He will most assuredly keep moving up the list in Wilmington’s next game as another former Buckeye and Lima Senior great Greg Simpson stands at 17 with 2,346 points.
Jon Diebler (Upper Sandusky) sits atop the career scoring list with 3,208 points, while current Duke University freshman Luke Kennard (Franklin) is second with 2,977.
The list includes several other “legendary” names — LeBron James (Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, 5th with 2,646 points), Jerry Lucas (Middletown, 11th with 2,460 points) and Bob Huggins (Bowerston Conotton Valley and Gnadenhutten Indian Valley South, 2,438 points).
“It’s really just an honor to be mentioned in the same group as those great players,” Cumberland said.
Cumberland is having one of the great seasons in the history of Wilmington High School, averaging 30.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He was a McDonald’s All-American Game nominee and has been selected to play in both the Ohio North-South All Star game as well as the Ohio vs Kentucky All-Star game.
Cumberland’s senior classmate, Cameron Stewart, a fellow Division 1 Southwest district honoree, may have summed it up best on Saturday afternoon as Wilmington was cutting down the nets following the victory.
“Jarron is the best player in the state of Ohio,” Stewart said.
Wilmington head coach Michael Noszka echoed Stewart’s praises of Cumberland.
“Jarron would rather score 0 points the rest of the season and win the state championship, than score 50 points and lose the state championship,” Noszka said. “That’s the type of kid he is. He’s an unselfish kid. He wants desperately to win.”
However, before all the postseason all-star game appearances, there is still work on the table left to complete.
Up next for Cumberland and his Hurricane teammates is a much-anticipated rematch with Archbishop Moeller in the Div. I Southwest Regional semifinal 8 p.m. Wednesday night at the Cintas Center on the Xavier University campus.
Wilmington enters the game with a mark of 25-1, the lone defeat coming at the hands of Moeller back on Jan. 23. Wilmington led 25-24 after three quarters before eventually falling 40-31 on Moeller’s home court.
The Crusaders (23-3) are coming off a 64-58 victory over Springfield in the district championship game.
When asked about the upcoming showdown, Cumberland was short and sweet with his message.
“I’m ready for Moeller.”
Reach Blake Haley via email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BeeLakeH