VANDALIA — Sidney senior forward Ratez Roberts is the team’s tallest at 6-foot-3 and is the only returning player from last season that had any significant playing time in the post.
Having a short roster isn’t normally a good sign for teams hoping to win conference and district titles. But senior guard Keith Lee said the Yellow Jackets have the ‘heart’ to make up for it.
“We’re an undersized team, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Lee said. “We’ve all got heart and we all love the game that we’re playing, and any team that plays us, it’s going to be a competition for sure.”
The Yellow Jackets backed up Lee’s declaration of heart on Tuesday night in a Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division game at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center. They rallied from an 11-point deficit in the last two and a half minutes to force overtime and then ran away in the extra period to a 51-46 win over the previously undefeated Aviators.
“We just came out and hustled,” senior guard Andre Gordon, a Virginia Tech commit, said. “Everyone was breaking sweats, hustling, cramping. Everyone just gave their best effort towards it.”
Effort in the post has helped Sidney (5-1, 4-0 GWOC North) rattle off four consecutive wins since a 63-44 loss to Mason in the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic in Hillsboro on Dec. 1.
Mason — which is 5-0 and has beaten every opponent by at least 15 points — manhandled the Yellow Jackets in the post that night. The Comets outrebounded Sidney 35-21 and had five blocks compared to one by Sidney. Mason senior Matt Minick, a 6-7 forward, was particularly bothersome as he had 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
Since then, the Yellow Jackets have improved their play in the post. They’ve outrebounded their last four opponents and had a season-high nine blocks in a win over Piqua last week.
The improved play in the post was on display against Butler, which has one of the Dayton area’s best inside players in 6-6 senior center Bryant Johnson.
Sidney was ready for the challenge. The Yellow Jackets outrebounded Butler 31-27 and had seven blocks compared to four by Butler.
Roberts, who was a second team all-GWOC American League last year, has also established himself as one of the area’s best inside players. He’s averaging 9.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and five blocks per game.
But it’s a complete team effort that’s helped Sidney play better in the post. Roberts has help from the team’s athletic guards (including Gordon and Lee) in going for a rebound after a shot. Gordon averages 5.8 rebounds per game, while fellow starting guards Josiah Hudgins and Darren Taborn average over three apeice.
Lee had three rebounds in Tuesday’s win and said the team effort in the paint is necessary.
“We do a lot rebounding drills because we’re undersized a little bit, but we can all jump,” Lee said. “We just make sure we box out and all guards crash the boards 90 percent of the time. We’ve got to keep practicing it and working at it so we don’t get outrebounded.”
Tuesday’s win is one of many Gordon envisioned when he re-enrolled in the school last November after opening the year with Huntington Prep in West Virginia. He’s hoping Tuesday’s win is the first step towards earning a third consecutive North title and winning a district championship.
“It feels great,” Gordon said. “I’m with all my best friends. I’ve been with them since second grade. Just love it, being home and seeing mom everyday, eating lunch with my friends and clowning in class and everything like that.
“I just to want to prove something and us leave a legacy. Leave the Andre Gordon name out there.”
Butler (6-1, 3-1) tied with Sidney for the GWOC North title last year. The teams will meet again on Feb. 12 in Sidney.
Butler opened the second half on a 22-8 run to take a 37-26 lead, but Sidney finished on a 25-9 run to come from behind and win.
“It feels great,” Gordon said. “We knew we were going to have to come in here and bring intensity because they were going to bring it. They want to beat us, but we wanted it a little bit more.”
It’s the fifth consecutive win for Sidney at the SAC. Butler had won the previous seven matchups between the squads in Vandalia.
The Yellow Jackets rallied from an early deficit to beat Butler 36-34 in Vandalia last February, and that victory earned them a share of their second straight conference title.
“Three years in a row, it’s come down to the buzzer,” third-year Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “It’s unbelievable. Teams have a hard time here. This place is known to be not so kind to the visiting team.”
Sidney (5-1) trailed 37-26 after a basket by Quentin Glover with about 2:30 left but rallied quickly.
It was the first big basket of the run that sparked the comeback according to Gordon.
Taborn hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:02 left to cut Butler’s lead to 41-35. Sidney called a timeout soon after, and Gordon rallied his teammates at center court before play resumed and said, “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”
“We knew we were going to keep busting it and keep going,” Gordon said. “We’ve all got heart. We knew we wanted this game more than them. We knew that in the huddle before (the tipoff) today when they came out with the lights off and stuff like that. It just gave us more energy, and it got us going.
“… I literally just told (Taborn) in the locker room that it started us off. It was just great that he could light the fire.”
Gordon hit a 3 with about 45 seconds left to cut the lead to 41-38. Butler had a five-second violation on the inbounds pass, and Sidney capped off the resulting possession when Roberts scored a shot off the glass with 36 seconds left and drew a foul in the process. Roberts hit the free throw to tie it 41-41.
Butler ran the clock down to 13 seconds and called a timeout. The Aviators’ last-second attempt hit off the backboard.
Lee opened overtime with a 3 from the left wing, then Gordon scored on a steal and thunderous two-handed dunk to put Sidney ahead 46-41.
“Dre had the ball and I saw him looking at me because the whole defense was shifted over towards him, because he’s Dre,” Lee said of his 3. “He just threw it over to me, and the (Butler defender) came out late, and I just pulled up. It just felt like the greatest shot in the world, literally.”
After Johnson hit a basket to pull Butler within three, Roberts made a basket after a steal and later made two free throws to put Sidney ahead 50-43 with 12.9 seconds left.
Gordon led Sidney with 18 points while Roberts scored 16. Gordon scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, while Roberts scored 11 of his 16 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“We kind of let (Gordon) go in the fourth quarter,” Willoughby said. “We needed him to create for himself just to get him going. Sometimes he’s a little too unselfish. Games like this, not that he has to be selfish, but he has to take it upon himself for us to score, especially when we were struggling to score some jumpers.
“Andre knew he had to pick it up, and he did. Ratez played a heck of a game too.”
Roberts had a game-high 13 rebounds and four blocks and Gordon had seven assists and five rebounds. Taborn finished with six points and five rebounds and Lee scored six points.
First place in SCAL on the line
After Friday night, there will be one team in sole possession of first place in the Shelby County Athletic League.
Anna (5-0, 3-0 SCAL) brings its high-flying offense to Jackson Center to take on the defensive-minded Tigers (5-1, 3-0). The Rockets average 79.2 points per game while Jackson Center has allowed an average of 40 points per game.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.