Jackson Smith’s post play combined with a well-timed run of three-pointers carried Tipp past Sidney and to a 15th consecutive win. Smith camped out on the blocks and flexed his size advantage over the Yellow Jackets to score 24 points.
Sidney, Oh – Game planning for a star player comes down to resource management. Tipp’s senior forward Jackson Smith gave Sidney just two options: allocate enough resources to guard him, or allocate enough resources to guard everyone else. Guarding both wasn’t an option.
Smith rumbled for 16 in the first half, and once he forced Sidney into a 2-3 zone and sucked in enough defenders, Tipp’s guard came swooping in with a barrage of threes.
The synergetic offense led Tipp (19-2, 16-1) to a 57-46 win, the 15th installment of a win streak dating back to December 19. Sidney fell to 14-7, but still commands second place in the Miami Valley League, and sits atop the Valley division.
Smith finished the night with 24 points. He did almost all his damage from the same spots he always does, the blocks and the free throw line.
“He’s a beast,” Tipp Head Coach Brock Moon said. “We knew coming in our game plan was to get the ball inside.”
That’s been the game plan against teams much taller than Sidney, and rightfully so. But against a team of Sidney’s stature and bench depth, unleashing the beast was the obvious play.
Smith is far and away the league’s most efficient shooter from the field, and shoots 63% on free throws. Not too shabby for a 6’5” traditional post player.
“He’s a beast in the paint,” sophomore guard CJ Bailey said, not knowing he was echoing his coach. “He leads us, he scores, he distributes. He’s the glue to the team.”
He wasted no time getting busy, scoring on a confident post move on their first offensive possession. And if you’d got up out of the bleachers and left right then, you still would’ve got the gist of the game.
Smith says the secret to his success is mentality.
“I just stay positive,” Smith said. “I make jokes when we’re down, and keep my spirits high.”
He didn’t have much to be down about tonight anyway.
He got to the foul line early and often, and made it count in more ways than one. In the first quarter he shot 6/6 from the stripe, then sent Sidney’s Mitchell Davis to the bench with two fouls in the second. This left Sidney, already a shallow team, with no one taller than 6’2” to match up with Smith. The ensuing mismatches created more layups, more fouls, more free throws and more foul trouble.
“When they were playing man they weren’t fronting me in the post,” Smith said. “And if you aren’t gonna front me we’re gonna get it inside.”
Despite Smith imposing his will offensively, Sidney bounced back from a sluggish offensive start, and junior guards Jayce Daniels and A’zon Steele kicked the offense into gear, keeping pace with Smith on the other end.
The Yellow Jackets briefly enjoyed their first and only lead late in the second quarter before Smith converted yet another post move at the buzzer for a 25-24 halftime lead.
Tipp looked more themselves in the third quarter. They pulled the reins a little and played at the pace they thrive at, slow enough to evoke images of Tony Bennett’s ultra-patient Virginia teams. With turnovers being scarce and the shot clock obviously non-existent, possessions dragged on and on, but Tipp’s usually ended with a much more favorable shot than Sidney’s did.
“We just had to lull them to sleep,” Smith said. “We would reverse the ball over and over until there was an opening.”
Even when Tipp didn’t convert, Smith and Maddox Sivon were there to haul in offensive rebounds to give the already dragging possessions new life.
The 2-3 zone that Sidney switched to in the second quarter in hopes of bottling up Smith finally started doing just that in the third. But as Smith’s gravity pulled defenders down toward the blocks, the guards finally found space to let the three-balls fly, and that spelled the end for the Yellow Jackets.
“Jackson was just sucking guys in, and then with his and Maddox Sivon’s screens we had wide open shots.” Bailey said.
Bailey hit three deep ones in the second half, including a gut-puncher right after Sidney had chopped the lead to six points with 4:30 to play in the fourth.
Bailey finished with 14 points and Preston Zumwalt backed him up with nine.
To Sidney’s credit, they played Tipp close in all four quarters. Not many teams can say that. They never let the smothering defense get to their heads, and didn’t allow significant scoring runs. The final score may be worse slightly than the 60-57 loss in January, but the mental toughness and effort they displayed will serve them well in the tournament.
“We battled against a really good team,” Sidney Head Coach John Willoughby said. “Our kids are pretty good about moving on. They’re not gonna worry about this game. They’re done with it.”
Once they knew they couldn’t match up size-wise with Davis in foul trouble, Sidney transitioned to running a five-out offense. They countered size with speed, and did it with surprising success at times. A’zon Steele and Julius Spradling displayed their remarkable ability to finish around the rim at bizarre angles with swarms of would-be shot blockers swatting at the basketball.
“Those are two of the most talented guards we face,” Moon said. “The game plan was to try to make them take tough shots. They’re gonna score, we know that. So we had to make them take tough, contested 2’s. But they still did a really good job.”
Bailey spent most of the night guarding Steele. “With those guys you just gotta bring your all on defense and then just hope for the best.” Bailey said.
Their ability to score by slicing through the lane faster than Tipp’s big defenders could slide with them helped Steele score 16 and Spradling eight. Jayce Daniel served to keep it close early, scoring seven of his 12 in the opening period.
Sidney’s tournament fate will be sealed Sunday afternoon at the tournament draw, then they’ll play Greenville on Friday with a chance to clinch an outright Valley division title for the third time in five years.
The 12th ranked Red Devils had already clinched the conference title before they set foot in Sidney High School, but now hold an impressive four game lead over the second place Yellow Jackets. They will also finish with the second best overall record in MVL history, behind their own 2021 squad that went 21-2. Tipp gets a week’s break before hosting Butler in their regular season finale.
It’s hard to envision Tipp getting anything other than a favorable draw on Sunday considering their fourth place RPI ranking in the region. Whoever draws the Red Devils better come ready to battle a wet blanket defense, a gang of shooters, and a beast.