LUCAS — The mood inside the Lucas locker room was surprisingly subdued considering all that had transpired.
The Cubs had just put the finishing touches on a resounding 70-54 win over state-ranked South Central on a night when senior standout Logan Niswander scored his 1,000th career point.
Instead of a wild celebration, however, players talked quietly among themselves as they tucked their gear into gym bags and backpacks. As they headed for the exit, they were greeted by a handful of friends, family members and other well-wishers — a site not uncommon at Lucas home games.
By all accounts, it was business as usual at the Cub Cave. Coach Taylor Iceman wouldn’t want it any other way.
Not so long ago, a win like the one over South Central would have sparked a floor-rushing celebration — the Trojans are the defending district champs and came in ranked fifth in the state in Division IV.
The face Lucas expected to not only compete with, but to defeat, South Central is a testament to just how far the program has come in the five years since Iceman took over at his alma mater.
“It’s just a different feeling,” Iceman said. “That comes from our culture and everything that everybody is doing down here.”
Lucas’ football success has been well-documented. The Cubs reached the Division VII state championship game in early-December.
Many of the same faces who led the football team to Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, including Niswander, have the basketball team at 10-0 — its best start since 1999-2000.
“There are only a few kids on the (basketball) roster who don’t play football for us,” longtime football coach Scott Spitler said. “We’re sharing a lot of the same athletes.”
Iceman, who is also the school’s athletic director and is a regular on the sidelines during the fall, agreed.
“It’s all the same kids playing all the same sports,” Iceman said. “They expect to win. That has developed over the years in the middle school programs.”
While the football program has been rolling for years — the Cubs have reached the playoffs six straight seasons — the basketball program’s revival is a more recent phenomena.
In the five seasons before Iceman took over, Lucas was a combined 10-97 without a single postseason victory. That stretch included back-to-back winless seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
In the four-plus seasons since Iceman took over prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, the Cubs are 55-41 and have reached the district tournament each of the past two years.
Barring a catastrophic collapse, Lucas will finish with a winning record for a fourth straight season. That hasn’t happened since the 1950s.
“A couple of years ago, we weren’t the most skilled group but we would always work hard,” said senior Carson Hauger, a standout on both the football and basketball teams. “Over the years we’ve developed into a skilled group and we continue to work hard.
“Now we expect to win these types of games.”
The paradigm shift began when Hauger and his classmates were sophomores. The Cubs pushed a wildly talented St. Peter’s team to the brink in an 81-71 loss in the district semifinals. St. Peter’s would go on to win its third straight district title and advance to the regional finals for a third year in a row.
“That was a really good St. Peter’s team with Elijah Cobb and Jared Jakubick,” Hauger said. “That kind of sparked it all for us.”
Since that loss to St. Peter’s to conclude the 2017-18 season, the Cubs are 29-6.
“A couple of years ago our mentality was, if we work as hard as we can, we can maybe get close,” Hauger said. “Now it’s, we have the talent to win. We have the confidence that we can beat whoever is on our schedule.
“That is something that has not been Lucas basketball for the last 20 years.”
The Cubs visit Crestline for a Mid-Buckeye Conference game Friday before duking it out with Division II Ontario at the O-Rena on Saturday. It will be the first meeting between the Richland County schools since 2013, when they were both members of the now-defunct North Central Conference.
The Cubs will also play Division II Galion and Clear Fork and Division III Crestview, Louodnville, Norwayne and Waynedale during the second half of the season.
Those games should prepare Lucas for what promises to be a rugged Division IV tournament. In addition to Lucas, which was ranked ninth in this week’s Associated Press state poll, the Willard district field will include third-ranked Norwalk St. Paul (9-1) and No. 15 South Central (10-2).
“There are a lot of good teams in our district,” said Niswander, who became the seventh player in program history to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau. “Beating South Central (in the regular season) is fun, but in the end it doesn’t matter.”
Lucas hasn’t won a district title since Todd Krill led the Cubs to back-to-back regional appearances in 1999 and 2000.
“First and foremost, we want to win another Mid-Buckeye Conference championship,” Hauger said. “Beyond that, we want to stay healthy for the tournament and see what happens.”