TROY — Sidney junior Avante Martin likes playing on opponents’ courts as much as he likes playing on the Yellow Jackets’ own. When opposing fans are yelling, Martin said Sidney gets angry.
Anger and intensity got Sidney into some problems early in the Miami Valley League crossover game on Tuesday at Troy, but the squad turned it into good energy in the second half and pulled away late to a 60-54 victory in front of a big crowd at the Trojan Activities Center.
The Trojans went on a 7-0 run early in the third quarter to tie it 31-31 but Sidney finished the quarter on an 8-3 run to retake control.
Troy came within three points twice early in the fourth but the Yellow Jackets quickly doubled the lead on their next possession each time. The Trojans (10-8, 8-7 MVL) pulled within two points with 1:30 left but Sidney hit five late free throws to secure the win.
“That’s the big thing, we at least we kept our heads when we needed to,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “We played smart late overall. We got the ball back out to our free-throw shooters, and for the most part, they canned them.
“We were worried about this game. We know how good Troy is and how capable they’re playing. To us, the way the league was going, this was the game for us.”
The win improves Sidney to 17-2 overall and 14-1 in MVL play and sets up a big game on Friday. The Yellow Jackets will travel to West Carrollton (13-5, 12-3) and can clinch the outright overall MVL title with a win. Sidney leads the Pirates by two games in overall standings with three games left.
“The way they’re playing lately, we’re going to have it tough,” Willoughby said. “We’ll just have to go down and play as hard as we can.”
“West Carrollton is a tough place to play,” Willoughby said. “You never know what is going to happen there.”
That excites Martin, who said he enjoyed playing at West Carrollton’s small and oftentimes loud gymnasium last year on junior varsity.
“I think it helps us play better when it’s more tight,” Martin said. “When there’s a lot of people and they’re yelling, it fires us up. When people are yelling at us, it makes us very angry.”
Martin, a 6-foot-2 forward, led the Yellow Jackets with 17 points on Tuesday, eight of which came in the third quarter. Willoughby also credited Martin’s defensive effort in helping hold down the likes of 6-5 Andrew Holley and 6-3 Shaeden Olden in the post.
“It was fun,” Martin said. “I was fired up at the beginning of the game. It just came to me, and I just kept having fun with it.”
Martin made an early three-point play to help Sidney build an early 7-1 lead. The team led 9-2 at the end of the first quarter, during which time Troy didn’t make a field goal.
The Trojans made two field goals in the first 65 seconds of the second and tied it 12-12 after Olden made a basket with 2:04 left.
Troy was aided during the run by several Sidney fouls, including a technical sophomore guard Devin Taborn picked up.
“I liked the way we started, but then we started chirping,” Willoughby said. “We’ve got to let sleeping babies sleep, man. …Instead of just letting the game flow, we get in our own way by talking and getting the other team fired up. We don’t want to get the other team fired up. We want them to sleep.
“Give Troy credit though for fighting through it. They have exceptional guards. They’re hard to guard.”
Sidney played a good portion of the first half without Taborn, Dominick Durr and Camden Vordemark, who all quickly got into foul trouble.
Cedric Johnson earned more playing time than normal as a result, and though he scored three points on free throws, Willoughby said he made a big difference to the team’s offense.
“He ran the offense well and I think he only had one turnover,” Willoughby said. “He played great defense and made smart passes and great passes. At that time we needed more of our offense to flow instead of being impatient, and Cedric helps us out and gets us going.”
After Troy picked up a personal and a technical foul with 1:33 left, Darren Taborn and Trey Werntz each hit two free throws to give Sidney a 20-16 lead. Werntz added a 3 before the end of the quarter to help push the lead to 23-19 at halftime.
Martin made a layup after a steal to give Sidney a 31-24 lead early in the third.
Olden hit a 3 and Henry made a bank-shot 3 to pull Troy within one point, then Olden split a pair of free throws with about four minutes left to tie it.
Devin Taborn hit a 3 from the right corner and Trey Werntz made a 3 from the left wing to quickly put the Yellow Jackets ahead again. Darren Taborn added a 3 just before the buzzer to give Sidney a 42-37 lead.
Tre Archie made a layup after a steal with 1:30 left in the fourth to cut Sidney’s lead to 54-52. The Yellow Jackets didn’t let it go to overtime, though, like the team’s first matchup, which Sidney won 73-68.
Darren Taborn made 3-of-4 foul shots over a 30-second span to give Sidney a five-point lead with 51 seconds left. He missed a dunk with about 30 seconds left that could have put Sidney ahead by five, but Troy turned the ball over several seconds later, and Durr hit two foul shots with 21 seconds left to boost the lead to 59-53.
Darren Taborn finished with 13 points, eight of which came in the second half. He’s been shooting 41 percent from the free-throw line this year but hit 5-of-6 foul shots on Tuesday.
“He’s been struggling for a while with his free throws but to his credit he’s been putting time in after practices at the free-throw line because he knows how critical free throws are for winning ball games,” Willoughby said.
Werntz finished with 12 points while Devin Taborn added nine, seven of which came in the second half when Troy switched to a zone defense.
“He looks forward to teams going zone,” Willoughby said. “He knows he’ll have four of five 3s coming his way. We try to get Trey in there too when teams go zone.”
Olden scored a game-high 18 points while Henry finished with nine and Holley added seven.
“I thought defensively tonight, we played about as good of team defense as we have all year,” Willoughby said. “We stayed out on their shooters and always had one or two guys in the help spot.”
The Yellow Jackets will need another good defensive showing against West Carrollton, which is averaging 67 points per game.
“We’ve just got to play as a team,” Martin said.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.