VANDALIA — Ratez Roberts has been back four days after missing two games in 10 days with a right ankle sprain.
If Roberts had any pain after playing four quarters in a physical game at Vandalia-Butler on Tuesday, he didn’t show it when he got the ball in the final seconds.
With the score tied, Roberts took a pass from Andre Gordon and made a shot in the paint with three seconds left to give the Yellow Jackets a 36-34 victory and a likely share of the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division title.
Sidney (15-6) and Butler (18-3) are tied in the North with 11-3 divisional records. The Yellow Jackets can clinch at least a share of the title with a win over Greenville (1-19) in Sidney on Friday. Butler wraps up regular season and conference play at Tippecanoe on Friday.
Sidney won the division outright last year.
“It’s a big win,” Roberts said. “Sidney’s never had back-to-back (conference) championships. It’s just a big play and a big win. We knew it was going to be a dog fight the whole game.”
Both squads struggled on offense through much of the game, particularly in the first quarter. But there was plenty of scoring in the fourth quarter as the teams switched leads six times and tied twice.
Kort Justice made a basket for Butler with 44 seconds left to tie the score 34-34. Sidney took the ball down court and called a timeout with 15 seconds left.
After the timeout, Gordon drove around the right wing, penetrated inside from the top of the key and threw a bullet pass to Roberts, who laid a shot off the glass.
“I had my man sitting under the basket,” Gordon said of passing to Roberts. “It’s just practice, that’s what we do.”
The teams called five combined timeouts before Butler got its last possession. Michael Kreill missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer after defensive pressure from Gordon. Sidney’s bench cleared after the shot sailed in front of the rim and onto the court.
Butler averages 58.7 points per game and hadn’t scored under 40 all season.
“I’m so proud of the way these guys played defense tonight,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “… We focused in defensively for the entire game. I don’t know if there was a second that ran off on our defensive possessions where we weren’t where we’re supposed to be and we weren’t covering where we were supposed to be covering.”
Devan Rogers led Sidney with 10 points while Roberts finished with eight and Gordon finished with seven. Justice led Butler with 12.
Gordon, who is being recruited by over a dozen Division I universities as a point guard, added seven assists, four rebounds and two steals.
“We talk to college coaches all the time and they want to know if he can manage the game,” Willoughby said. “I tell them all the time that he’s not just a scorer. He can score; he can shoot. Great defender. But he knows the game and he manages the game. He’s a willing and capable passer.
“Tonight, even though he scored seven points, I thought he was in control of the game. I think that’s why he’s the best player in this league.”
Roberts and Rogers each had eight rebounds. Roberts also led all players with three blocks.
“He didn’t complain (about any pain),” Willoughby said. “Just his presence on the jump shots, that’s got to be a little scary for high school kids, seeing Ratez coming out you.
“I give a lot of credit to Devan as well. We had to take him out of the game in the fourth quarter because of defensive matchups. They brought in four guards, and we tried to keep him in there, but they were getting to the lane on us and we had to take him out because of that. He was a great teammate on the bench, helping us and talking to his teammates.”
The game was tied 23-23 at the end of the third. Bryant Johnson scored a shot off the glass with 4:35 left to put Butler ahead 32-31, but Gordon hit a jumper with 2:18 left to put the Yellow Jackets ahead 33-32.
Gordon added a free throw with about a minute left to give Sidney a two-point lead before Justice made a basket to tie the game with 44 seconds left.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Willoughby said. “Sometimes that plays with your mind a little bit when you know a team is not wanting to run with us and run the clock off. I thought we handled it well.
“Our big message to the players today was to stay with it, focus each possession defensively. You do not stop playing defense no matter what they’re doing. You guard the ball, when your man gives it up, you’ve still got to sustain the good defensive effort all the way through the possession instead of thinking, ‘Well, I guard my man and he gave it up, now I’m done.’ We did not do that tonight. We played tremendous help defense and rallied to the ball.”
Butler led 2-1 at the end of the first quarter as both teams struggled against each other’s zone defense. Butler ran a 2-3 zone, while Sidney ran a matchup zone.
“We came out and they came out and played good defense,” Gordon said. “Slowed the game down like they wanted to, but it came out close and we got the W.”
The squads moved around more on offense and found more shots. Roberts made a basket and Rogers followed with a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Sidney a 10-5 lead with 3:20 left, but Kreill and Justice followed with baskets over the next minute to bring Butler within one.
Sidney finished the second quarter on a 4-0 run, though. Darren Taborn made a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:51 left and Rogers followed with a free throw with 1:07 left.
Butler beat Sidney 58-51 on Dec. 19 after using a 17-7 scoring advantage in the fourth quarter to take control.
“We knew this was going to be a big game,” Roberts said. “They beat us the first game and one time last year. We knew this was going to be a dog fight the whole game, and was were ready for them. We knew all their plays and was working hard on them all week.”
Tuesday’s game was played in front one of the biggest crowds Butler administrators say they’ve seen in recent years. The 4,000-seat Student Activities Center was about half full.
It’s the kind of environment Sidney could be play in front of often as the tournament starts later this month, and Tuesday’s defensive effort is likely the kind that will be needed for a long postseason run. The Yellow Jackets are the No. 8 seed in the Dayton Division I sectional and will open tournament play against GWOC North rival Troy on Feb. 23.
“We’ve got to build off of this and keeping going,” Roberts said.
Ratez Roberts basket! Sidney lesds 36-34 with .8 seconds left. Butler TO. pic.twitter.com/bPeZXhzKCC
— Bryant Billing (@TopBillingSport) February 14, 2018
Butler's last shot no good. Sidney beats Butler 36-34. pic.twitter.com/29LJ7mpVod
— Bryant Billing (@TopBillingSport) February 14, 2018