SIDNEY — Sidney’s boys basketball team may be relaxing more over the first two weeks of 2018 than during Christmas vacation. And with the stretch of games that follows, resting up may be needed.
The Yellow Jackets’ game against West Carrollton on Friday is their only in the first two weeks of January. But Sidney (6-3) will finish the month by playing seven games in 17 days, starting with a big matchup against Versailles in the Flyin’ to the Hoop invitational tournament on Jan. 14.
“That’s a big stretch for us, and I like how we’re playing heading into that,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “Our defense is better, our rebounding is better, and our subs are playing better. We’ve just got to keep that up.”
Sidney is coming off Saturday’s 63-40 win over Bellefontaine, which Willoughby said was the team’s best performance of the season. The Chieftains’ scoring total was the lowest Sidney allowed through its first nine games.
The Yellow Jackets, which gave up 41 points in the first half of a conference game against winless Greenville on Dec. 22, had allowed 50 or more points in every game before Saturday.
The bad first half against the Green Wave may have been a turning point for Sidney’s defense. The Yellow Jackets held Greenville to 23 points in the second half, then held Urbana to 50 in a win the day before beating Bellefontaine.
Willoughby said part of the reason for the defensive improvement is better defensive rebounding and limiting opponents’ second-chance opportunities. Senior center Devan Rogers leads the team with 9.1 rebounds per game, while junior forward Ratez Roberts averages 8.4.
“We’re getting everybody involved with those guys in the rebounding,” Willoughby said. “No matter how well you play defensively, if you don’t get the rebound, it doesn’t show you anything. We’ve got to finish the defensive stance by getting the rebound, which allows us to get the ball out a little easier and get some shots.”
Junior guard Andre Gordon is putting together another outstanding season. He ranks second in the 20-team GWOC with an average of 27.3 points per game and also averages 5.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals.
But Willoughby said other players scoring alongside Gordon has been a big key for improvement. Aside from Roberts (12.2 points per game) and Rogers (7.9), junior guard Josiah Hudgins and sophomore guard Darren Taborn have come up big in a few games.
Sophomore forward Trey Werntz also came up with a few big shots last weekend. Werntz scored seven points in Friday’s win over Urbana and scored a 3-pointer from near half court before the halftime buzzer Saturday. He was 3 for 3 from the field and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line in the two games.
“He needed some time,” Willoughby said of Werntz. “He didn’t put his work in over the summer, and it took him a little while. We had him pegged as a contributor on varsity this year because he can shoot the ball, but he wasn’t ready at the beginning of the season. We’re bringing him on slow, and it’s almost halfway through the season, so he’s ready.”
The Yellow Jackets are 4-2 overall in Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division play. Friday’s home game against West Carrollton is a GWOC crossover and counts in league standings.
The Pirates (0-7, 0-4 GWOC American South) haven’t won a game since Dec. 19, 2015 and don’t look much improved from last season, when Sidney won a crossover matchup by nearly 30 points.
West Carrollton has lost all but one game by 30 or more points. The team’s closest game was a 54-40 loss to Fairborn on Dec. 15.
After Friday’s game, Sidney won’t play again until the Flyin’ to the Hoop matchup with undefeated Versailles. The Yellow Jackets have a big game two nights later against Centerville (7-4). The Elks, which have made the districts each of the last three seasons, won a four-game tournament in Orlando over Christmas break.
Fort Loramie already battled tested
Fort Loramie (9-0) appears battled tested heading into 2018 thanks in part to a pair of nonconference games in December. The Redskins fought off Franklin Monroe for a 49-39 win on Dec. 12 and beat Bethel 55-47 last Saturday in a back-and-forth game.
After rolling over their first three Shelby County Athletic League opponents, Loramie faced a challenge from Jackson Center last Friday but pulled away late to a 43-30 win.
The early-season tests may prove to be a big help over the next four games. The Redskins host Russia (7-3) on Friday, travel to Versailles (8-0) next Tuesday, host Anna (7-2) on Jan. 12 and face Dayton Thurgood Marshall in Flyin’ to the Hoop on Jan. 15.
“Our schedule’s challenging, but it doesn’t matter,” Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton said. “We’ve got to be ready. You can get beat by anybody on any given night if you’re not prepared. We’ve got to keep inching better and progressing. …It’s a constant uphill climb.”
Friday’s game against Russia is big for SCAL standings. The Raiders lead the league with a 5-0 record, while Loramie is second at 4-0. Russia has won the SCAL title each of the last four years.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.