SIDNEY — Sidney was without two of its strongest players in a Miami Valley League crossover game on Friday and struggled physically against archrival Piqua.
The Indians have plenty of size and strength in recent seasons since many of its athletes also play for the school’s football team. The size and strength led to some basketball sloppiness last year, though — the team averaged over 15 turnovers and over 15 fouls per game.
The Indians are hoping for a cleaner effort this year and got it Friday. They jumped out to an eight-point lead in the first four minutes and cruised from there to a 49-41 victory over the Yellow Jackets.
It’s the first time Sidney has lost to Piqua since 2016 and the first time it has lost to the Indians on its home court since 2014.
“We had a very determined and focused practice last night and said we were going to come out with great energy, and we did it the whole time,” Piqua coach Steve Grasso said. “I’m super proud of all my guys.
“… We’re defending pretty well, and it’s when people are connected and really care about each other that defenses are successful.”
Sidney (1-1) was without two of its strongest players in junior forward Jaden Swiger and junior guard Devin Taborn, who are both quarantining.
While senior forward Avante Martin (6-foot-2, 187 pounds) played after missing the team’s opener on Wednesday due to quarantining, he struggled in the post for much of the game against Piqua forward Jerrell Lewis (6-2, 250 pounds) and a plethora of bulky, physical guards.
Sidney coach John Willoughby said the size disadvantage hurt but said he was more disappointed by the effort of his players.
“For some reason, we weren’t ready to play tonight, and we’ve got to figure that out,” Willoughby said. “We were slow. You’ve got to give credit to the way Piqua came out. They were a little bit — not a little bit, they were a lot hungrier than we were, and I don’t understand that.
“We didn’t come out with the same intensity we came out with on Wednesday night, and that’s hard to believe.”
Piqua (1-1) opened the season with a 46-34 loss at Vandalia-Butler on Wednesday. The Indians were within 39-34 at the end of the third quarter before the Aviators finished with a 7-0 scoring advantage in the fourth quarter.
Grasso said he was pleased with the defensive effort on Wednesday and said the goal for Friday’s game was a better shooting effort and a consistent performance through four quarters.
The Indians led 37-28 at the end of the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets made one last push when Cam Vordemark scored seven points in a 9-2 run late in the fourth, which pulled Sidney within 43-39 with 1:55 left.
After a Piqua timeout, Tanner Kemp got behind Sidney defenders and took a pass in the post, only to have it knocked away by Vordemark.
But Kemp recovered the ball and hit a shot with 1:45 left to boost the lead to six points, and after Martin missed a one-and-one opportunity on Sidney’s next possession, Devon Sever made a basket off the glass with 1:23 left to push the lead to 47-39.
“That last game against Butler, we scored 0 points in the fourth quarter, which is the first time in the history of my coaching I’ve had that happen,” Grasso said. “It wasn’t from a lack of effort or anything. We missed a couple of layups and a couple of free throws, and the next thing you know, the game was over.
“We put emphasis yesterday in practice that we were going to do the small things and win the fourth quarter. We did. I don’t think we missed a free throw in the fourth quarter and we finished a couple of tough buckets down there. I’m super proud of them.”
Sophomore guard Dre’sean Roberts led Piqua with 18 points. He hit four-of-four free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to help secure the win.
“Dre is going to be a special player for us,” Grasso said. “…He’s a tough guard when he gets going, because he can shoot a little bit and attack the rim a little bit. We’re expecting big things from Dre as we move forward. Great effort tonight.”
Lewis, who committed for Fordham for football late last fall, added 11 points and was one of the team’s top rebounders.
“He spent a lot of time, effort and energy during quarantine and in the summer at changing his body,” Grasso said. “He would not have been able to play all those minutes last year like he did tonight, but he focused on his nutrition and his fitness. You could see the results tonight. He made it really difficult on Martin, who’s a heck of a player himself.”
Vordemark led Sidney with 15 points and brought down five rebounds while Martin scored 11 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Piqua, which was without seniors Kameron Darner and Garrett Schrubb on Friday, started the game with a 10-2 run that Devon Sever capped off with a drive down the lane and layup with 4:10 left in the first quarter.
“We talk about fast starts and the importance of that,” Grasso said. “We’re really pleased with the way we started.”
The Yellow Jackets finished the quarter on a 9-2 run to pull within 12-11, but Piqua retook control with a 10-4 run in the first four minutes of the second quarter and led 26-20 at halftime.
Sidney started the third quarter on a 6-2 run, which Ryan Schloss capped off with a 3-pointer from the left corner with just under five minutes left. But Piqua scored the next six points to take a 34-26 lead with 2:37 left.
“We were letting them pass the ball wherever they wanted to pass the ball and we couldn’t keep them in front of us,” Willoughby said. “I don’t know. We’re going to have to get used to playing Wednesday and Friday, because every other team is going to.
“To me, it’s mental. It’s all mental. Your energy and desire should come every night. Only the really, really, really good players can come every night and score. We’re average. We need to come with energy every night because we don’t have anybody that’s going to come out and score 25 points every night.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t come with the hunger that we did Wednesday.”
Sidney shot 16 for 43 (37.2 percent) from the floor and 5 for 12 (41.7 percent) from the free-throw line. Piqua shot 17 for 47 (36.2 percent) from the floor and 13 for 18 (72.2 percent) from the free-throw line. The Indians had a 29-24 rebounding advantage.
Piqua is scheduled to host Tippecanoe on Wednesday while Sidney is scheduled to travel to Stebbins.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.