CANTON — When it came to its most recent opponent, the Akron Buchtel boys basketball team was on high alert.
"They knocked out the three seed and they knocked out the two seed," Griffins head coach Matt Futch said. "That really put us on notice."
Futch was referring to seventh-seeded Tallmadge, which upset third-seeded Canal Fulton Northwest and second-seeded Louisville to reach the Canton Division II district final.
Buchtel certainly took the Blue Devils very seriously. In the end, though, the talented Griffins didn’t have to break much of a sweat.
As a result, they’re heading to a destination they haven’t seen in more than two decades.
That would be the Sweet Sixteen.
Top-seeded Buchtel captured its first district title since 1998 after routing Tallmadge 86-52 Saturday at the Canton Fieldhouse.
With the win, the Griffins (18-7) have a date with Poland Seminary in a regional semifinal contest.
As for the Blue Devils, their first district title since 2008 ended with a brutal defeat. Tallmadge has not won a district championship since 2005.
Nonetheless, it was quite a ride for the Blue Devils. But they were no match for Buchtel, which also ended Tallmadge’s season in sectional play two years ago.
"They’re very talented," Blue Devils’ first-year head coach Bill Johnson said. "They definitely gave us some issues with their length and their athleticism."
Tallmadge’s season ended in Canton for the second consecutive year. The Blue Devils (13-13), who lost four starters from the previous season, got off to a rough start.
But they finished strong, thanks mainly to their sheer determination to defy the odds.
"We started the season 4-8," Johnson said. "It could have gone a lot of different ways. Our guys said, ‘The heck with this.’ We battled and battled and battled to get back to .500.
"The bottom line is, we beat the No. 2 seed, we beat the No. 3 seed and we’re in the district championship against the No. 1 seed. That’s a credit to our kids and how much they didn’t want to lose."
On this day, Tallmadge simply ran into a juggernaut.
Buchtel, led by 6-foot-6 freshman guard Chris Livingston, overwhelmed the Blue Devils with their length, speed, athleticism and depth.
By the time many of the fans got comfortable in their seats, the Griffins built a substantial lead.
They increased their advantage to 22 (30-8) by the end of the first quarter and didn’t look back the rest of the way.
"Watching them and watching their length and how hard they play, I knew it was going to be a tough out for us," Futch said. "I thought if we capitalized on the weaknesses that they have, we would have a great opportunity."
Livingston and his gifted teammates, on the other hand, showed very few weaknesses Saturday.
Livingston, who was a force as a finisher, jump shooter, playmaker and defensive stopper, scored a game-high 37 points.
Four other Buchtel standouts also reached double digits in scoring.
Noah Peeples, a 6-4 sophomore guard/forward, did most of his work inside as he finished with 19 points.
Left-handed sophomore point guard Ronnell Perie II scored 12 points and orchestrated the offense beautifully with his penetration and pinpoint passing. Jon King, a 6-5 senior forward, added 10 points.
Senior guard Nick Hussing led Tallmadge with 13 points and 6-4 junior guard/forward Brandon Heigelmann, the Blue Devils’ top offensive threat throughout the season, added 12 points.
Senior point guard Sam Seeker, a three-sport star at Tallmadge who plans to play baseball at the University of Toledo, contributed nine points.
Senior guards Sean Ambrose, Jake Gardella, Steve Zesiger, Nate Zappola, Nick Joyner and Liam Tokash also ended their careers for the Blue Devils, who refused to shut down despite the lopsided deficit.
"You just have to look at the last three quarters and how hard they played," Johnson said. "They were not going to back down. Even when the game was pretty much out of hand on the scoreboard, it isn’t in our kids to do that."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.