Last-second shot doesn’t fall for Sidney in 63-62 sectional final thriller had a little bit of everything.
Centerville – As far as sectional final games go, this had it all. Well … almost if you’re the Sidney Yellow Jackets.
A state-ranked team in the Springfield Wildcats. A dangerous underdog in Sidney. A rowdy crowd, nearly bordering on unruly at times. A packed house at Centerville High School. And an up-temp, track-meet-in-high-tops thriller that came down to the game’s final shot.
The only thing missing? Andre Gordon’s final shot – an off-balance, 10-foot jumper that bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Springfield, No. 11 in the final state poll, escaped with a 63-62 victory over Sidney in this Division I sectional final. The Greater Western Ohio Conference teams didn’t play during the regular season. This meeting was worth the wait.
As for Gordon, he was as stand-up off the court as he was on it. The junior guard – sitting quietly in the stands after the game – didn’t shy away from answering questions after the dejecting loss.
The final 1:41 of the fourth quarter seemed to last 10 minutes. Springfield’s Leonard Taylor – a standout football player heading to the University of Cincinnati – hit one of two free throws to put the Wildcats up 61-60 with 1:41 to play.
Officials stopped the game with 1:19 remaining after something was thrown onto the court, prompting a plea from the public address announcer to let the game continue without interruption.
Sidney (18-7), attempting to inbound the ball after the stoppage, was called for a five-second violation. As Springfield (20-4) tried to inbound the ball, a fan from Springfield’s side ran onto the court about seven or eight steps to pick something up. Fans from both sides jeered and taunted each other.
“How many times do you give somebody a warning? Four or five warnings and nothing done,” Sidney coach John Willoughby wondered. “And somebody runs out on the floor. I don’t get that.”
The game resumed and Springfield turned the ball by stepping on the baseline with 56 seconds left.
Sidney junior Ratez Roberts scored on an offense rebound to give the Yellow Jackets a 62-61 lead with 24 seconds left.
Taylor then hit a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left for the 63-62 advantage.
Sidney set up for the final shot, and after a timeout with 11 seconds left, put the ball in Gordon’s hands. Gordon dribbled around the perimeter, then received a pick-and-roll screen and darted down the lane. He was swarmed by three Springfield defenders with Michael Wallace blocking his path to the rim and Taylor behind him. Gordon lost the ball in midair briefly, then recovered it before shooting his jumper with a couple seconds left.
It bounced off the side of the rim to send Springfield’s bench into celebration.
“(The screen) worked well, I came in and didn’t get what I wanted,” Gordon said of the final look. “I didn’t finish. Lost the game.”
Gordon, who kept the Yellow Jackets close with his 15 points and deft ball handling, and didn’t dispute the final call … or non-call depending what side of the bleachers the fans sat.
“I’m not complaining. The reffing the whole game was good,” Gordon said. “I didn’t think it was a foul. It just didn’t end the way we wanted it to end.”
Added Willoughby: “They went to a zone and once Andre could get past that pick-and-roll at the top he was going to be one-on-one with (Taylor). I’ll take that any time. I thought if we could get Andre in there he could create for himself or create for somebody else. He was right there. He ended up with a tough shot.”
Sidney twice led by as many as eight points in the third quarter, the final time coming on senior Ryan Heins’ jumper to put Sidney up 51-43 with 2:22 left in the third. Springfield responded with a 3-pointer from Larry Stephens and high-flying RaHeim Moss threw down an alley-oop dunk – the first of two he had Friday – to pull within three.
Springfield pulled within 53-52 early in the fourth before Gordon knocked down a 3-pointer to push the lead back to four. It went as high as five – 58-53 – on a Roberts’ basket. Moss then scored on a foul and free throw to make it 58-56 and set up the frantic finish.
“We can do a lot of things if they play like that. I’m proud of the way they played,” Willoughby said. “That team can easily blow you out. You see how quick they can come back and get their points. I thought we battled on the boards. We didn’t back down. If we can compete, that’s all I want out of my players. They did tonight.”
After the final buzzer Willoughby tried to get the officials attention for an explanation on what they saw on the final play. With the rowdy crowd and Centerville security lining the court, the officials went straight to their locker room.
“We didn’t get one (call) at our end. That’s hard to live with,” Willoughby said. “I feel a little cheated. I feel a little bad for the kids. It comes down to calls or non-calls. It’s just not fun, man.”
Roberts led Sidney with 19 points and had half a dozen blocks. In addition to Gordon’s 15, senior Devan Rogers – who will play college football at Toledo – added 10 points, sophomore Darren Taborn nine and Heins eight.
“(Roberts) always says he’s ready to play every game,” Willoughby said. “He was certainly ready to play tonight.”
The score will certainly grab the attention of basketball fans, especially those outside of Sidney who didn’t give the Yellow Jackets much of a chance. Springfield coach Isaiah Carson wasn’t one of them. He knew what his Wildcats were facing.
“I’m just happy we were able to come away with the win today,” Carson said. “Two good teams going at it in the sectional final. The sectional final it always gets real. Nobody wants to go home. We’re fortunate to come out with the win today.”
“I would have been mad if it wasn’t this close,” Willoughby said. “If we play right and everybody focuses in on what we need to do – I’ve said it for two years – we can play against anybody. It’s hard for high school kids to do that for 23 games.”
On a court with standouts like Rogers and Roberts for Sidney and Moss and Taylor for Springfield, Carson said Gordon was the best of them all. And not just in this game.
“Best player in the area. Easy,” Carson said. “It ain’t even close in my opinion. He’s the best in the area.”
Springfield advances to play Cincinnati Elder in the district final Saturday at the University of Dayton Arena.
As for Sidney, the Yellow Jackets were sitting at 7-5 after consecutive mid-season losses to Versailles and Centerville. Sidney ripped off nine wins in its last 10 games to cap the regular season – with the only loss to Trotwood – and dispatched Troy and Beavercreek in the sectional tournament.
“We made a turn after the Trotwood game,” Willoughby said. “Trotwood kind of opened our eyes that we better play. Ever since then we’ve been playing pretty well.”
And it continued right into Centerville High School. Gordon is confident the Yellow Jackets will pick up next season where this one left off … and take it a win further.
“We’ve got Division I athletes on the team. We’re Sidney. That’s what we’re putting on the map and we’ll come back next year. We’ll be back next year for sure,” Gordon said. “We’re looking to get something on the banner next year. No doubt. … Everyone on our team is confident. (Springfield) played a great game. We played a great game. I feel like we did our job. We just didn’t finish.”