For the Sidney Daily News
CLAYTON – On Monday, the Sidney Yellow Jackets cracked the top 10 in the Associated Press state poll for the first time in school history.
But as coaches will tell you, it’s not where you start – or in this case where you are mid-season – it’s where you finish. The Yellow Jackets got a lesson in that Tuesday night after avoiding the Northmont Thunderbolt’s upset bid.
Sidney scored nine of the final 13 points to win 72-68, improving to 10-1 overall following the Greater Western Ohio Conference cross-over game. Northmont fell to 4-8.
“It’s so hard to go by the records anymore,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “Northmont is athletic. They just killed us on the boards. If we don’t have the effort it doesn’t matter what records mean. It’s probably tougher than it should have been but give credit to Northmont.”
The win went to Sidney following a back-and-forth fourth quarter that featured a combined 30 free throws.
Northmont led 66-65 with 1:32 on Prophet Johnson’s score. Sidney then took the lead for good, going up 70-66, on a pair of Andre Gordon free throws with 1:27 left and Lathan Jones’ basket and free throw with 48 seconds to play.
The T-Bolts pulled to 70-68 with 28 seconds remaining. Gordon then capped the scoring with a reverse layup with 14 seconds left. Northmont’s final gasp ended with four misses, including three in the paint, to end the game.
The ending was a sharp contrast to the start. Sidney sprint to a 10-0 lead, punctuated by a Ratez Roberts dunk. Northmont, though, hit the boards and outscored Sidney 16-2 the final 5:11 of the first quarter.
“We didn’t get relaxed but I think we kinda got out of our flow a little bit,” Roberts said. “We sped the game up and that’s what (Northmont) wanted us to do. We dug ourselves in a pretty deep hole. … We just kept fighting back.”
Said Willoughby: “We got off to a great start. That’s the way it should have been the whole game. We kind of were like, ‘Okay we showed them how good we are’ with that 10-0 run. We weren’t rebounding and missed three or four three-pointers in a row that let them back in. We get out of character sometimes when we build that early lead just to show what we can do.”
Sidney never led in the second quarter – but did tie the game with two minutes left – and trailed 24-23 at halftime.
The second half featured three ties and 13 lead changes, including eight in the fourth quarter.
“I told the team in the locker room after the game that I thought we played one of the top two teams in the Dayton area and we went toe-to-toe with them,” Northmont coach Shane Kincer said. “If you can do that with Sidney you should be able to compete with every team left on our schedule.”
Sidney kept the ball in Gordon’s hands as much as possible in the fourth. Gordon, a 67-percent free-throw shooter, hit all six of his fourth-quarter attempts and was 12-for-12 overall. The Yellow Jackets finished 21-of-29 as a team.
“Andre is a great player,” Kincer said of the Virginia Tech recruit. “We tried to keep the ball out of his hands as much as we could. We limited to two points in the first half. That probably doesn’t happen very often. The second half he went on a little run.”
Gordon scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. Roberts added 12 points and Darren Taborn 10. Trey Werentz hit a pair of key 3-pointers.
Keith Lee, who scored six points, came up with a huge defensive stop with 1:06 remaining. Sidney led 67-66 when Lee took a charge in the lane to force the Northmont turnover. Josiah Hudgins scored eight points and also stood out defensively, especially in the first half.
“I thought Josiah played a good game. A quiet good game,” Willoughby said. “Early he looked really good. Just his defense is key for us and a big part of our game.”
The victory was Sidney’s ninth straight following a 63-44 loss to Mason on Dec. 1. Mason is ranked No. 8 in the D-I poll.
“We’ve been building that with last year and how well we played,” Willoughby said of the state ranking. “You start playing well against top-notch teams and you start getting that. And having a player like Andre helps out. It shows how the program is moving.”
Sidney twice reached No. 11 in the AP state poll with the 1995-96 and 1999-2000 teams. This year’s Yellow Jackets’ team is focused adding to its milestone season.
“We’ve never been recognized like this in I don’t know how long,” Roberts said. “Definitely as long as I can remember. It feels pretty good senior year making this happen and going on a pretty good winning streak.”