A miserable start turned into a game to remember as Sidney avenged an earlier loss and threw the GWOC American North race into a tie with one game remaining.
Vandalia – John Willoughby knew what was coming.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” said the Sidney coach about his teams’ game with 18-2 Vandalia Butler. “Sometimes that messes with your head, when you know the other team doesn’t want to run with you. We handled it well and kept our focus.”
The Yellow Jackets survived a 1 point first quarter and broke a late tie on a Ratez Roberts lay-in with 2.5 seconds left to beat the Aviators 36-34. Both teams are now 10-3 in the GWOC American North with one game remaining.
“Our message to the players today was to stay with it,” Willoughby continued. “Focus each possession defensively. We told them they had to continue to play efense all the way through each possession, and we did.”
To say the game got off to a slow start would be a bit of an understatement. The Jackets went 0-6 from the floor, while the Aviators started 1-6. Score after 8 minutes of basketball—2-1 Butler. (No, the baseball Buckeyes don’t start until Friday.)
Things got a little better in the second quarter, but not much. Devan Rogers and Darren Taborn made threes in the quarter for Sidney, who led at halftime by the rather ridiculous score of 14-9.
The Aviators, who lead the entire GWOC in points allowed at 46 per game, finally got going in the third quarter. Kort Justice scored 5 points in the quarter, and Ryan Wertz came off the bench to hit a big three. The teams went to their benches after 3 tied at 23, when the game took a strange turn.
During the timeout, a technical foul was called on the Sidney bench.
“I was just arguing a call,” Willoughby told a well-wisher after the game with a laugh. “Guess I might have said a little too much earlier in the game.”
Butler couldn’t capitalize on the break, however, and the teams battled down the stretch neck and neck.
With the Yellow Jackets up a point, Andre Gordon made 1 of 2 free throws with a minute left. Butler got back even when Justice, who finished with a game high 12 points, knocked down a contested, fade-away jumper from the right baseline with 49 seconds left. Sidney held the ball for the final shot and called timeout with 15 seconds left.
With every eye in the Student Activity Center on Gordon, the Sidney junior found another way to break Aviator hearts. Dribbling toward the left wing, he found fellow junior Roberts wide open on the right block. His pass was perfect and so was Roberts’ shot to give the Jackets a 36-34 advantage with 2.5 seconds left.
Gordon talked about the winning play.
“Everyone thought I was taking the shot. Everyone clamped on me, and I saw ‘Tez wide open. Threw him a nice little pass and we got the win.”
“I knew how much time was left,” Roberts explained. “I just concentrated on getting the ball in the rim. I just had to make that shot.”
Then something that no one could remember happening before. Five consecutive timeouts…two by Willoughby and three by his Butler Counterpart Darren Wyrick, kept fans on the edge of their seats.
The Jackets denied Justice the ball, and the in-bound pass went to junior Michael Kreill. He managed three dribbles before launching a shot from about 25 feet above the key. The shot was off the mark, and although the Butler bench thought Kreill was fouled, no whistle sounded and the Jackets escaped with a well-earned victory.
“That’s the way people are going to play against us,” said Willoughby. “People don’t want us to get up and down the floor on them. That’s Butler’s system for the most part. By the way, I love the way he (Butler coach Wyrick) coaches. He does an outstanding job. He’s young and he knows what he is doing.”
For Sidney, now 15-6 and winners of eight of their last nine, Rogers was the only player in double figures with 10. Roberts had 8, Gordon 7, and Darren Taborn hit a pair of threes for 6 points.
Justice was the only player in double figures for Butler, now 18-3. Bryant Johnson had 7 and Ryan Wertz scored 5 second half points off the bench
“We really wanted to win tonight,” Gordon explained. “They beat us at home, and they are a really good team. It’s a really good win for us to build momentum for the playoffs.”
Roberts, who sprained his right ankle against Tippecanoe and missed three games, said he is healthy and ready to go.
“I felt pretty good tonight. I’ve been going to the chiropractor and our trainer has been helping me every single day. I knew I had to get back for this game. I played a little against Piqua and felt good, so it was good to be out there tonight.”
Willoughby said his team has gained a lot of confidence over the last month.
“If it’s a low scoring game early, I’m ok with that because I know eventually we will figure it out. I know Andre is going to get the ball to the right people in the right spot. As long as we are locking down on defense, I know we are going to be ok. That’s what happened tonight. We just had to stay with the defensive effort. I am so proud of the way they played defense tonight.”
Sidney would seem to have the easier path to the title Friday. The Jackets host one win Greenville on Senior Night, While Butler travels to Tipp to face a Red Devil team that beat the Aviators earlier this season.
“Hey, we aren’t going to take anything for granted,” said Willoughby as he got ready for the bus ride home. “That was a three-point game at halftime the first time we played. We will enjoy this for a little while, but we have to get back to work and get ready for Friday.”