If it wasn’t a game for the ages, it certainly was the game for the year (so far), as Sidney survives some fractious moments early to tie, force overtime, and beat Wayne in a heart-stopper.
Sidney – Two weeks ago, after a rather pedestrian win over Piqua, Sidney coach John Willoughby said, prophetically: “Tonight we won with our athleticism. But there’s coming some games where we’ll have to play better basketball, and do the little things better, to win against better basketball teams.”
And that night came Saturday, against Wayne, their seventh win of the season in a 77-73 overtime thriller.
In a game that Sidney could have easily lost for lack of attention to detail, they found focus on the very points that Dr. Naismith and Willoughby stress to turn the tide of the game in their favor, draw upon some ‘guts’ (for lack of a better word), and win against a team good enough to have beaten unbeaten Trotwood just one night earlier – in overtime!
For example…lackadaisical defense in the first half, failing to close out on Wayne three-point shooters – failing to be aggressive after loose balls, those 50-50 balls that Wayne picked up and scored.
For example…patience on offense, boxing out on defense, and playing smart. You don’t always need a three-pointer when you have a lead.
For example…what drove Naismith, John Wooden, and Red Auerbach crazy – make free throws when the game is there for the taking. For the night Sidney hit just 20 of 30 from the line. And for most of the second half just 50%, including free points lost on a pair of technical fouls assessed to Wayne.
Stuff like that.
But if the glass was occasionally half empty, it meant that it was half full, as well. And after trailing 17-13 after the first quarter, Sidney roared back to take a 32-29 halftime lead courtesy of senior Ratez Roberts, about whom Wayne coach Nathan Martingale would later say, “he beat us, because we thought we had a plan to contain him.” Roberts would score 12 points in the first half, on his way to 19 for the game, and gave the ‘Jackets a huge lift while teammate Andre Gordon was finding his mojo. Gordon finished the half with ten.
Roberts was fantastic, fighting for points at the rim, knocking down a couple of mid-range jumpers, and generally playing his best half of basketball of the year, so far. His twelve first half points effectively negated the twelve of Wayne’s Rashad McKee, who took full advantage of lackadaisical defense in the first half to can a trio of three-point shots.
And more, his ability to block shots at the rim (along with Josiah Hudgins and Darren Taborn) frustrated Wayne, and showed that Sidney was the athletic equal to a team that takes a back seat to no one in that department.
“We talked about it in the locker room,” said Willoughby afterwards. “We had to do some things better if we were going to win. We gave up some shots early because we just didn’t lock down on defense. Our free throw shooting…we just gotta’ do better in those situations, and we had good shooters at the line. But I thought we really rebounded well, on both ends, and that’s been an issue. I was really happy with how we went after the basketball.”
It set up a second half that had three ties, four lead changes, a pair of technical fouls on Wayne with shots and extra possession for Sidney – and so many opportunities seemingly lost that one wondered how they could possibly win?
Back and forth it went – Wayne would go up by three, Sidney would come back to tie and take the lead. And largely because, suddenly…Andre Gordon found his game. He scored 24 of his game-high 34 points in the second half, running past flat-footed Warrior defenders to get to the rim…charging right down the throat of Wayne’s interior defense to jam home a dunk in the third quarter…and while the ‘Jackets’ leader had his own less-than-memorable moments at the free throw line early, he found his stroke, finally, when it mattered the most.
But the fact is…they had their chances to do some of these little things to put Wayne away in regulation, and didn’t. And give Wayne credit, as well. An athletic group that slashes to the rim with anyone, they gave as good as they got just one night after having beaten Trotwood in the same manner. Ronnie Hampton would finish with 19 points, Tallice Landers had 16, and McKee would should his was to a team-high 20.
But trailing 65-62 with less than ten seconds left in regulation, Sidney ran a play for a three-point look that ended up in the hands of Keith Lee. Lee, with just a single free throw to his credit for the first 31 minutes, 53 seconds of the game, launched a heave from the right point, and about six feet behind the three-point line. It went in! Pandemonium broke out, and Wayne’s resolve broke down. The unthinkable had happened.
“He practices that shot all the time,” smiled Willoughby. “We had it set up for an attempt for Andre, but Wayne played it well, it ended up in Keith’s hands, and he made it. You practice those type of things.”
Tied at 65-65, the overtime period fell on the shoulders of Gordon and Darren Taborn. Taborn had the ‘Jackets’ only field goal, Sidney’s first score in the extra period. But Gordon finally calmed down at the free throw line, draining seven of eight chances in the final four minutes to keep the game just tantalizingly beyond Wayne’s reach. Wayne had some erratic moments of their own, casting up a couple of some impatient shots that were wide and into the hands of a rebounding Gordon, Taborn, and Josiah Hudgins. Ratez Roberts, ironically, had fouled out in regulation. And forced to go to the line, Gordon did not disappoint.
“We kept our energy going,” said Gordon, in reference to overcoming their early miscues to hang around and win. “And I was off with my free throws early in the game, but I knocked down my last four in the clutch, and that felt good. And I didn’t like giving up the points to McKee in the first half, so I had to lock down and he only had nine points for the rest of the game. What this did was put Sidney on the map. We got athletes, we got kids who can play basketball, and we’re not under-rated anymore.”
“We just kept battling,” said Darren Taborn, who like Gordon, had struggled at critical moments at the foul line in the second half. “We work on handling adversity in practice, and that’s what we did tonight. This just makes us better.”
In the Wayne locker room Nathan Martindale gave the ‘Jackets their just due.
“We had our chances in regulation,” said Martindale. “If we hit a free throw they don’t get that chance to hit the three (that sent the game into overtime). But they did and I give Sidney credit…they played a great last 14 seconds in regulation, and in overtime. We just didn’t get it done tonight. Last night we won in overtime and tonight we didn’t get it done.
“Andre Gordon is a great player,” he added. “There’s a reason why he’s going to Virginia Tech. Late in the game if you allow him to get the ball in his hands he’s going to take the game over. He’s a hard guy to stop one-on-one. If we had handled our business it would have been different, but you give the ball to ‘Dre and he’s a phenomenal player. I’ll look forward to watching him in college.”
Besides Gordon’s 34, and Roberts’ 19, Darren Taborn finished with 10, Josiah Hudgins had 6, Trey Werntz and Keith Lee each had 4.
For Wayne, McKee had 20, Landers had 16, Hampton had 19, Bobby Cole and Zay Jones each had 6, and Malcom Curry had 3.
Wayne drops to 5-3 on the season, while Sidney improves to an impressive 7-1, and 5-0 in league play.
As to the concerns that John Willoughby talked about earlier in the month, the Yellow Jackets, in Andre Gordon’s words, served notice Saturday of how far they’ve come since that December 14 win over Piqua. But more, they proved that they were good enough athletically to survive until they got a handle on defense, boxing out, free throws in the clutch, and their ability to take another team’s best punch.
You know, the little things.
And that’s exactly how they won on Saturday!