VANDALIA — Being a high seed in the Dayton Division I sectional usually is a ticket to an easy first-round victory. But from the moment No. 12 Dayton Carroll jumped on No. 4 Sidney for a first-round game at the tournament draw on Feb. 10, Sidney coach John Willoughby threw those assumptions out the window.
“I kind of felt sorry for myself for a while,” Willoughby joked after the teams played in their Division I sectional opener on Saturday at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activities Center. “You’re 18-4, and your first-round game is going to be something (tough). Come on, man.”
The Patriots play in the perennially tough Greater Catholic League Co-Ed Division and are coached by Tim Cogan, who led Kettering Fairmont’s girls team to a string of consecutive final four appearances earlier this decade, including in 2013 when the squad won the D-I title.
Carroll brought a tough, oftentimes suffocating defense that flustered Sidney some on Saturday. But senior guard and Virginia Tech commit Andre Gordon helped the Yellow Jackets breath and pull away late to a 48-35 victory.
Gordon led Sidney with 30 points, which is the 16th time in his career he’s scored 30 or more. Sixteen points came during a game-ending 20-7 run by Sidney after Carroll tied it 28-28 midway through the third.
“Coach just said, ‘Go keep playing,’” Gordon said of Carroll tying it. “… We had to run good sets. They were sagging off on me, everyone’s helping on me. As I do, I just had to be a point guard, get everyone open, be a leader. Just playing my role.”
Gordon has had plenty of clutch performances over his four-year career, but there have been times Willoughby and the team’s coaching staff have had to convince him to shoot more and pass less in tight situations.
There was no convincing needed on Saturday. Gordon drove around and through Carroll defenders at times, shot over them at times and leaped over them for putbacks at times.
“We always talk about, ‘the way you practice is the way you play,’” Willoughby said. “The last three years I’ve been at Sidney, I don’t think we’ve had three better practices as a whole group leading up to this game, and I don’t think Andre has practiced this well for three straight practices in the three years I’ve been here.
“I’m hoping they’re sensing they’re seniors, and this is the time they’ve got to do it.”
Sidney (19-4) advances to face No. 11 Springboro (12-12), which beat Fairborn 48-38 in Saturday’s second sectional opener. The No. 8 Skyhawks beat Sidney 63-61 on Jan. 18.
“We’ve got to have intensity, defense,” Gordon said. “Everyone plays hard. Ratez (Roberts) got four fouls tonight, so that means he’s playing aggressive. Everyone’s playing aggressive, so I feel we’re going to be good.”
The Panthers and Yellow Jackets will face off in a sectional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in Vandalia.
Springboro boasts a significantly taller roster than Sidney. Sidney’s tallest players are 6-foot-3, while the Panthers have four players over 6-4, including 6-8 senior center Michael Berner, who averages 11 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
“I don’t know how we’re going to deal with the size yet,” Willoughby said. “We’re going to have to work on it. I don’t know what to say about it. I thought Fairborn did a nice job with it, and Fairborn’s about our size. It just comes down to effort and position, effort and position.
“I think we can still get the ball to the basket. Just concentrate and don’t worry about the size. …We don’t want to back away from what we’re good at just because they’re taller than us.”
Springboro played a slower, half-court style against Fairborn, and Sidney got a similar look against Carroll.
The Yellow Jackets were able to bring a solid defensive effort and limited Carroll to many one-shot possessions. The Patriots had several long scoring droughts.
Willoughby credited each of Sidney’s players for what he described as a stupendous defensive effort. Among key performances was junior 6-3 forward Lathan Jones, who overcame a slow defensive start and brought down five rebounds.
Jones has played in nearly all of Sidney’s games this season but has seen more minutes as of late, including against Greenville on Feb. 15, when he scored a career-high 19 points. He finished with three on Saturday.
“We got ready to put him in the game and told him he had to guard (Matt Cogan), who’s a good shooter, and to not give him any space,” Willoughby said. “When he came in, he shot a 3 on Lathan. I’m going to say something when that happens.
“But after that, I thought Lathan played an excellent game. He’s come a long way for us and has been a key for us. Going into Springboro, we’re going to have to probably find someone else (in addition to him and Roberts) that can play the post. But he’s been really good both offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding.”
Roberts, a senior forward, added 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Josiah Hudgins scored two points to round out the Yellow Jackets’ scoring. Gordon had nine rebounds and two steals.
Sidney finished the first half with a 10-0 run to take a 21-13 halftime lead. Carroll scored three 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the third quarter — including two by Cogan — and pulled within 26-24. Simon Jefferson later hit a basket to tie it 26-26 with 4:45 left.
“You only give up 13 points in the first half, then they come out and score on their first five or six possessions,” Willoughby said. “It’s like, what is so different about it? But I think we called a timeout there, and our defense got a littler stronger. Made a couple of substitutions, and I thought we straightened it up there.”
After Carroll tied it 28-28 on a basket by Jaden Dahm with 4:01 left, Sidney dominated the rest of the game.
Gordon hit a jumper with 3:42 and then made a dunk after a steal 30 seconds later to push the lead to 32-28.
Neither team scored again in the third, but Sidney started hitting shots again in the fourth.
Dahm hit a basket to pull Carroll within 35-32, but Sidney scored the next eight points. Gordon hit a 3 from the left wing and made a pair of free throws, Jones split a pair of free throws and Gordon scored on a drive to the basket with 3:00 left to push the lead to 43-32.
“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t good at end of games,” Willoughby said. “I think we could play in any type of game, but we weren’t real secure with what we were doing with three, four minutes left in the game with a 10- or six-point lead. We didn’t execute that well early on.
“I would say with confidence that we play good playing this type of game. Our players can do it; we’ve been coached to do it. We’re pretty good at it. We don’t lose our head and don’t lose what we’re able to do. When we have Andre to control it, we can play in this type of game.”
Sidney led 5-2 early after a basket by Roberts but Austin Schafer hit a 3 with 2:22 left in the first to tie it 7-7, then hit another 3 with 38 seconds left to put the Patriots ahead 10-9. Roberts made a basket before the end of the quarter to put Sidney ahead 11-10.
Gavin Kinney made a basket to put Carroll ahead 13-11 with 6:30 left in the second, but the Patriots didn’t score again the rest of the quarter.
Jones made a basket to start a 10-0 run by Sidney with 5:54 left. Gordon dunked with 4:36 left to put Sidney ahead 15-13. He made two more baskets and Roberts made a basket before the end of the quarter to put Sidney ahead 21-13.
“We’ve been playing good defense,” Willoughby said. “Early on this year, I don’t think it looked like it because we weren’t rebounding well. But the second half, we’ve been rebounding well. …When you get in tournament time, you’ve got to play defense and compete. That’s what we preach all the time, and we did that both in the first half and second half.”
Schafer led Carroll with nine points while Dahm scored eight. The Patriots finish 12-11 overall.
“Carroll’s a well-coached team that plays in a tough league,” Willoughby said. “They know how to play. They execute and have three really good shooters that can handle the ball. You’re going to be a good team when everyone can handle the ball and you have good shooters and play defense.”
Sidney shot 19 for 42 (45.2 percent) from the field and outrebounded Carroll 31-18. The Patriots shot 13 for 38 (34.2 percent).
The winner of Sidney vs. Springboro will likely face Springfield in a sectional final next Saturday. The No. 2 seed Wildcats beat Tecumseh 65-26 in Saturday’s first sectional quarterfinal to advance to a second-round game against No. 18 Troy (10-12), which had a first-round bye.
Notes: Sidney matches a program record of 19 wins in a season after Saturday’s win … Roberts went over 100 blocks for the season and 250 career blocks in the win … Sidney has won eight of last nine games at Butler’s SAC … Gordon surpassed 500 season points in the win and is only the third player in program history to accomplish the feat.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.