SIDNEY — While the Miami Valley League has let up on its conference-only scheduling mentality late this winter, it still arranged for teams to be able to play a full 22-game schedule without playing nonconference opponents.
The solution: face some opponents for a third time.
Sidney’s boys basketball team faced the league’s best squad for a third time on Saturday. And while the Yellow Jackets came up short against Tippecanoe again, coach John Willoughby hopes it was another good lesson for what will be needed in tournament play.
The Yellow Jackets started the third quarter with a big run to take a lead, but Tippecanoe battled back and ran away late to win 75-64. The Red Devils, which were ranked No. 3 in Division II in this week’s Associated Press state poll, improved to 17-0 overall with the win.
“We hung, we hung, we hung, and then they come down and hit three 3’s on us, and that did it,” Willoughby said. “They’re a really good team. It’s all them. We played hard and I thought we played well enough and played good defense. It’s just all them.”
Tippecanoe, which has already secured the overall MVL title, is winning by an average score of 71-51.
The Yellow Jackets (9-7) were able to stay closer than that 20-point average margin in each of the three matchups — including a 71-68 loss on Jan. 9 in Sidney — but Tipp’s hot shooting and rebounding proved to be too much to overcome each game.
The Red Devils, which have three starters 6-foot-4 or taller, shot 43 percent from the floor on Saturday, including 8 for 19 (42.1 percent) from 3-point range. They also hit 23-of-29 (79.3 percent) of free throws and had a 43-32 rebounding edge.
The good news for Sidney: it won’t face the Red Devils in tournament play when it starts Div. I sectional action later this month. But Willoughby knows plenty of tough postseason matchups loom and thinks Sidney is close to reaching its peak and beating tough opponents.
“We’re getting close,” Willoughby said. “We played well last night against Butler. We’ve been a little inconsistent with our shooting. If we can shoot, we’re pretty tough. We’ve got some guys playing pretty well.”
Among the guys playing well is senior forward Avante Martin, who had a triple-double against Vandalia-Butler on Friday. He is averaging a double-double of 13.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game and is also averaging 5.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.2 blocks.
“That was a goal of ours, that he averages a double-double,” Willoughby said. “He’s capable of that and has shown it. He’s been very steady for us; it’s great to see him having a great season.”
Junior guard Devin Taborn also averages 13.1 points per game while senior guard Cam Vordemark averages 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Junior forward Jaden Swiger has stepped up big in the last month for Sidney. He’s scored in double figures in six of the last seven games and has boosted his average for the season to 10.4 points per game.
Willoughby also credited senior guard Cedric Johnson, who starts along with the previously mentioned players. He also complimented senior guard Darrius Basil, senior guard Ryan Schloss and senior forward Isaiah Huggins for strong play off the bench.
“We’re close to being a pretty good team,” Willoughby said. “It’s just inconsistency in our shooting.”
Tipp built a 17-10 lead by the end of the first quarter, and the teams traded points to a 33-26 halftime score.
The Yellow Jackets scored the first nine points of the third quarter to take a 35-33 lead, with Taborn capping off the run with a layup shortly after a turnover with 5:10 left.
The Red Devils closed the quarter with a 20-13 run to take a 53-48 lead, then finished with a 22-16 scoring edge in the fourth.
Swiger led Sidney with 17 points on Saturday and had seven rebounds. Taborn scored 14 points while Martin scored 10 points and had a team-best nine rebounds and four assists. Vordemark added nine points and Basil scored eight off the bench.
Sidney shot 24 for 63 (38.1 percent) from the floor and 11 for 15 from the free-throw line.
Tippecanoe 6-5 senior guard Zach Frederick scored a season-high 27 points and had 21 rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to travel to Troy on Wednesday and Stebbins on Friday. They are slated to wrap up regular-season play on Monday by hosting Xenia.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.