VANDALIA — Springboro has an imposing roster size-wise and starts 6-foot-7 and 6-8 players.
Sidney has something more imposing: Andre Gordon.
Gordon, a Virginia Tech commit, lifted the Yellow Jackets to a 68-62 victory over the Panthers in a Division I sectional semifinal on Thursday at Vandalia’s Student Activity Center. He scored 22 consecutive points in the second half to help Sidney rally from a seven-point deficit and scored 29 of the team’s 33 total second-half points.
“I’m really proud of the way they played and hung in there,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “We talked about it’s not about your height, it’s how you get in there and battle.
“I’m really proud of how we battled tonight. There have been times during the year where I wasn’t as pleased with them with that type of effort, but these kids — when it’s time, man, they’re ready. It’s unbelievable.”
Gordon finished with a game-high 45 points, which is the second highest single-game scoring total of his career.
There may not have been many flashy dunks that Gordon has made go viral on social media throughout the season against Springboro, but there were plenty of other highlights, like repeatedly cutting through Springboro’s tall post players or hitting a bank-shot 3 from the volleyball line.
“It’s tournament time,” Gordon said. “I guess it’s just a different mode. I was just feeling it, and my teammates knew I was feeling and got me open and got me the ball. I just took over.”
Next up for No. 4 seed Sidney: a long-awaited sectional final rematch with Springfield. The No. 2 Wildcats knocked Sidney out of the tournament last year by rallying for a 63-62 win in a sectional final in Centerville.
“I don’t think it’s happening this year,” Gordon said. “We’re going to have to work hard, but we’re trying to get to UD or somewhere big. I’m excited.”
The Yellow Jackets (20-4) and Springfield (15-9) will face off at 7 on Saturday in Vandalia. The Wildcats beat Troy 67-43 in Thursday’s first semifinal. The winner will advance to a district final at UD Arena on March 9, likely against Cincinnati Oak Hills.
Saturday will also be a reunion for Gordon with C2K Elite AAU teammate RaHeim Moss, who leads Springfield with an average of 18 points per game and has collegiate offers in basketball and football. The two played together for two years.
“I talked to him after the game, and he’s excited,” Gordon said. “… We’re pretty close, spending all summer with each other and clowning and stuff like that. He’s probably one of my best friends.”
Willoughby said he’s proud the team will return to the sectional finals — especially after tough tournament openers against Carroll and Springboro.
“I think that says a lot about us,” Willoughby said. “Those were not easy games or bad teams, especially for an 18-4 team to face early (in the tournament).”
Darren Taborn and Josiah Hudgins each added eight points for Sidney, all in the first half. Willoughby thought there early scoring was key.
“Them scoring early, and Keith (Lee) hitting a 3 early, helps us tremendously,” Willoughby said. “That helps give Andre a little bit more space.”
Gordon said another big key was the play of 6-3 senior starter Ratez Roberts and 6-3 junior Lathan Jones. Roberts battled all game and had several blocks and rebounds, while Jones was key in the post late.
“They’re 6-3 but they play with the heart of 6-8,” Gordon said. “It’s great. They came out, did their thing and got us the win.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against. We’re not soft; we’re not scared. We’re putting Sidney on the map. …We’re ready to come out and play, whether we’re the No. 4 seed or 16 seed or whatever. When it’s tournament time, we’re ready.”
Springboro had successfully slowed the pace in many games this year, including a 32-30 loss to Springfield and a 48-38 win over Fairborn in a sectional opener last Saturday.
“They were staying man-to-man and were trying to double-team Andre,” Willoughby said. “They were staying man against us, and Andre’s that good, man.”
Gordon hit a long 3 at the third-quarter buzzer to put Sidney ahead 49-48 and completed a three-point play with 6:41 left in the fourth to put the Yellow Jackets ahead 54-50.
Gordon hit a basket to put the Yellow Jackets ahead 56-53 with 5:04 left. Garett Powell hit a jumper with 1:24 left to pull Springboro within 61-57. Gordon made four free throws over the next 20 seconds to extend the lead to 65-59. Lathan Jones added two free throws to push the lead to eight a short while later.
After Gordon split a pair with 38 seconds left, Powell hit a 3 with 17 seconds left, but Springboro didn’t foul again and let the clock run out.
Springboro finished the first half with a 16-6 scoring advantage to take a 36-35 halftime lead and kept its scoring run going in the third quarter.
After Gordon hit consecutive baskets to pull Sidney within 40-39 with 5:35 left, Springboro scored the next six points to build a seven-point lead.
The Panthers led 48-41, but Lee made a basket and Gordon hit a 3 to bring the Yellow Jackets within 48-46 with 1:56 left. The 3 for Gordon was the first of a long stretch of buckets.
Springboro missed a shot with four seconds left in the third, and Sidney got the rebound and worked the ball to Gordon, who made a bank-shot 3 from the volleyball line at the buzzer to give the Yellow Jackets a 49-48 lead.
The teams traded points often throughout a fast-and-furious first half.
Springboro led 8-4 early but Sidney scored the next eight points, including 3s by Lee and Hudgins.
After Springboro took a 14-13 lead on a 3 by Noah Moser with 1:57 left in the first, the Yellow Jackets finished the quarter with an 11-4 scoring run, which Gordon capped off with a bank-shot 3 at the buzzer.
Drake Dickerson opened the second half with a basket to pull Springboro within 24-20. Hudgins hit a 3 from the left wing and Gordon made a basket to put Sidney ahead 29-20 with 6:09 left.
The Panthers scored the next nine points to tie it up. Gordon hit a free throw to put Sidney ahead, but Powell made a basket to put Springboro up 31-30. The teams traded baskets to a 36-35 halftime score.
Springboro finishes 11-9. Powell, a 6-7 senior forward, led Springboro with 23 points. Gordon guarded him in the second half, and Willoughby credited Gordon for his defensive effort. Powell scored 11 in the second half.
Moser, a 6-4 forward, scored 11, as did Willieon Yates. Michael Berner, a 6-8 center, scored 10.