Sidney cooked up the perfect recipe for a comeback, mixing steals and jump shooting with a dash of fast break points to complete the comeback from down 13. A’Zon Steele and Julius Spradling paved the way, combining for 40 points in the 54-46 Revenge win over Fairborn.
By Alan Brads for Press Pros
Sidney, Oh – Sidney’s Head Coach, John Willoughby, pushed all his chips into the middle of the table in the third quarter.
Trailing by double digits, his team came out in a 1-2-2 full court trap, hoping to force steals and get easy baskets. They would win with effort, or die trying.
But going “all in” isn’t a bad idea when you have a pair of aces, and Willoughby had ‘em. His aces, guards A’zon Steele and Julius Spradling, came to life, swiping steals, and knocking down jumpers to complete the comeback in a 54-46 win over Fairborn (8-7).
Steele hit 12 of 16 free throws on the way to 24 points, and Spradling scored 13 of his 16 in the second half. Their heroic effort extended Sidney’s winning streak to seven, and improved their record to 12-5 – plus they picked up revenge along the way.
“With them beating us in the first game, that made us want it more in this game,” Steele said. They needed every bit of desire they could muster.
The high-pressure defense was really a choice to fight fire with fire. Fairborn sped up Sidney’s offense in the first half, keeping them from getting comfortable, and holding them to 16 points.
The rapid pace advantaged Fairborn’s deeper rotation, and conventional wisdom would predict that advantage would only increase as the game progressed and fatigue set in.
“We practice the trap a lot,” Steele said. “But we don’t get to execute it much in games because of how short we are on our bench. But we had a lot of energy today in that second half.” Willoughby threw caution to the wind and gave Fairborn a taste of their own medicine.
When Sidney first went to the full court trap, they got three consecutive steals.
Fairborn’s point guard William Perry III scored 10 points in the first half, but up against the vicious trap, he never scored in the second half, and turned the ball over with uncharacteristic frequency.
“When we press we talk about speeding the opponent up,” Willoughby said. “Yeah, they might get open shots, but they’re not used to shooting those shots that quickly. That’s what was happening to us in the first half, and we reversed it.”
Indeed, the jumpers that were falling for Fairborn in the first half, couldn’t find the hole in the second.
Sidney pulled a 180 on both sides of the ball. The once sluggish defense roared to life, and the rushed offense settled into a groove.
Where their offense had been frantic and panicked in the first half, it became settled and efficient in the second – hence the 38 point half. They moved the ball with intent, making the extra pass to find the right shot, instead of settling for the first look they got.
Entering the fourth quarter, they still trailed by six thanks to Fairborn’s Taiyou Williams finding his stride late in the period. Williams had a slow start, but finished with 18 points.
Sidney frequently took advantage of the dribble drive, as the 6’ 10” Divine Olinger, the MVL’s leading shot blocker, spent over 20 minutes of the game on the bench in foul trouble. He picked up two in the first four minutes, sat the rest of the half, and fouled a third time just 22 seconds into the third quarter.
Having seen Sidney’s guards favoring the dribble drive, Fairborn went to a 1-3-1 zone in the fourth quarter, packing it in to keep Steele and Spradling out of the lane. Sidney countered by zeroing in on their jump shots.
Having trailed since early in the first quarter, Spradling sank an and-1 off the dribble drive to recapture the lead at 45-42 with 2:42 left. Starting with that three-point play, Steele and Spradling combined for the Yellow Jackets’ last 14 points. Mitchell Davis notched eight points and Ethan New scored six.
“We came out really slow,” Spradling said. “When they beat us down in the first half, it gave us a little kick. In the locker room coach really got on us and made us pick it up.”
Willoughby praised his players’ responses. “They’ll take coaching,” he said. “They don’t cry about it. They try to take it in and understand it. I can’t say enough about these kids taking the coaching in, then going out and doing it.
Sidney had no business playing as energized as they did. Just seven Yellow Jackets touched the floor, and Spradling, Steele and New never got a break. To make things even more difficult, Fairborn spent their time on offense sending shooters on long looping cuts, from one wing, under the basket, and out to the other wing, receiving screens along the way. That forced Sidney to run constantly, even in half court sets. Fairborn also didn’t use a timeout in the first half, forcing the Yellow Jackets to stay in the floor and gut it out.
And somehow they did. Sidney dug deeper. In coach speak, they just wanted it more.
“That’s why I like this group,” Willoughby said. “They’re gonna play all day long.”
They out-efforted Fairborn for the last two quarters, something that clearly doesn’t happen to the Skyhawks very often.
“The energy really came from our coaches motivating us to get at it on the defensive side,” Steele said.
As Spradling and Steele padded their leads as the MVL’s top two scorers, Sidney kept pace in a tie with Stebbins for the lead of the Valley division, at 10-4 in the conference.
They have multiple huge MVL tilts coming down the pipe, including on the road at Butler, and hosting the 14-2 Tipp Red Devils.
But if things get tough down the road, Coach Willoughby knows he has a pair of aces he can bet on.