CENTERVILLE — The Monroe High School boys basketball team entered the Division I postseason scene in grand fashion.
Noah Fults scored a team-high 21 points, Drew Taylor added 17 and the No. 15 seeded Hornets snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 64-57 sectional victory over No. 13 Xenia on Wednesday night at Centerville.
Monroe (10-13), which moved up to Division I for the first time, started the season off 9-5 before enduring its lengthy skid.
“We felt good during that span. We really didn’t think we played that poorly,” Hornets coach Aaron Horne said. “We just haven’t made the plays that would help us win games. It just seemed like one little phase of the game we weren’t solid in — which was the difference between wins and losses.”
But a gritty second half Wednesday changed the tide for Monroe, which trailed by as many as 13 in the first half.
“This was a relief — especially doing it in the tournament,” Fults said of getting back on track.
Fults, a senior forward who was banging around with numerous Xenia players inside the paint all game, said the initial plan for him was focused around exploiting a mismatch down low.
The Hornets worked the ball inside to Fults enough to be able to give them some perimeter spacing.
“I knew I was going to be bigger than the guy that was going to be guarding me,” Fults said. “They had to get the ball to me and feed me. We also knew we had to control the ball because we knew they were going to trap. We just dished it around.”
Monroe put together an 8-0 run that was capped off by an Alex Zolman bucket, pulling the Hornets to within 25-21 with three minutes remaining in the first half.
Damien Weaver scored a game-high 22 points for Xenia (9-14), which led 31-25 at the half. Ayden Rose had 12 points.
“We were disappointed at halftime,” Horne said. “I just kind of felt like we were sleepwalking a little bit through the first half. It was probably some nervous energy being a part of it. We had to challenge them and tell them to start doing the things that we know defensively. That would generate some opportunities for us offensively. I thought that was the key. Our guys stepped it up in the second half on that end of the floor.”
The Hornets took a 45-43 lead into the final quarter with the help of a 12-3 run.
Monroe mounted its largest lead of the night when Fults dished a big-league assist to Tate Fetrow, who laid one in to make it 60-51 with two minutes left to play.
Fetrow finished with 11 points for the Hornets.
“We’re just trying to show that we’re ready for Division I play,” Fults said. “We’re trying to prove to people that we’re no joke. Even though we were on an eight-game losing streak, we still have a lot of heart, and we can play.”
The Hornets went 7 of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter to help secure the win. Monroe fired 13 of 16 total at the free throw line.
“For the most part, we did what we needed to do down the stretch in terms of taking care of the basketball and knocking down some free throws,” Horne said. “We stayed aggressive and didn’t settle for 3-point shots, which we did a little bit in the first half.
“We felt really good about our opportunity,” Horne added. “We wanted to look at this as a four-team tournament. We started off by focusing on that four-team tournament by beating a solid Xenia team.”
Monroe will face Sidney on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at Vandalia Butler.