Big Sandy’s season has ended, as the local Area champions did not have an answer for the speed and defense of the Italy Gladiators in a 56-37 game at Centerville’s Tiger Gymnasium.
“I thought their quickness really hurt us,” Big Sandy coach Kevin Foster said after the game. “The pace of the game was honestly how he wanted it, with the exception of the times we turned it over, we struggled to score more than I thought we would. I thought we would be able to score more in the half-court against them and we missed a lot of easy ones and played uncharacteristic of how we’re capable. I think their quickness had a lot to do with that.”
The Wildcats left with shooting hands a little warm the last time they were in Tiger Gymnasium about a month ago, having made 17 3-pointers in a district match with Centerville.
Their fortunes seemed to have run out, as the rims were not as kind Tuesday. Getting back on defense and setting up full-court pressure left Big Sandy without a transition game and playing half-court basketball. Italy took away big chunks of momentum and points from the Big Sandy attack.
A sloppy game early, the Wildcats did not get a shot off for two minutes. Neither team could control the ball with several turnovers by both.
Down 7-2, Cole Foster entered off the bench and drilled a three from the wing with 2:38 to go in the first. An Aaron Thompson free throw would be all the scoring the rest of the period. After one, the ‘Cats trailed 7-6. Keith Davis II scored all seven for the Gladiators.
Two Italy 3-pointers to begin the second had Kevin Foster calling for time out with 6:46 to play in the half. Another from long range had them up 16-6.
Aaron Thompson and Britton Dickens hit layups, but Italy seemed throw the press at Big Sandy in waves. The small, but quick guards were no larger than 5’8” and all four maintained pressure on the ball, waiting for errant passes — of which the Wildcats had more than usual. Fundamental lapses and getting out-hustled for balls — what is normally seen from Big Sandy opponents — allowed Italy to command the second quarter. A three in the waning seconds from Samuel Richard brought the game to 27-16 at the locker room break.
“I think some of it was nerves but we were not smooth tonight,” the coach said. “We never got in any sort of rhythm offensively and I attribute that to their quickness. They did a good job and they disrupted everything we wanted to do offensively.”
At half, Davis II had 12 points and Kevin Johnson had eight (all second quarter). Richard was tops on the Wildcats with five.
Down 33-19, the Thompsons — Isaiah and Aaron — each hit a 3-pointer and Richard converted a three-point play to help bring Big Sandy back. The Wildcats held their opponents to just 10 points in the quarter, scoring 14 themselves. At the end of three quarters, Italy led 37-30, but it was a contested game once more.
Unfortunately for the Dallardsville group, the fourth quarter was their toughest. Shots were scarce, as the Gladiators held the ball to drain the clock. As had been the case most of the game, shots were not falling for the ‘Cats. Italy took advantage of a team that could not get into a flow on offense or start their transition game because of the on-ball pressure.
Davis II scored seven of his 21 in the quarter and Tylan Wallace emerged to get six of his 10 for the game, matching teammate Johnson’s 10 points.
Richard, who had 15 points for the game, attempted to carry Big Sandy with ball handling, penetration and shooting. But team turnovers and Italy pressure were again the Wildcats’ downfall. Aaron Thompson was second on the team with nine points.
“To lose 10 seniors, basically have only one guy back, have JV and junior high kids, and to make it to the third round — if you would have told me that, I’m not so sure I would have believed you. But I would have taken it. It hurts to get to this point, because you’re so close to a regional tournament, but it is experience you can’t get anywhere else.
“We have everybody back next year and even though we didn’t play well, maybe we can learn from it. I was disappointed in the result, but overall, I am proud of them. Hopefully we can take this and because we have everybody back, we have a chance to be really good next year. We need to take how this feels and use it as a motivation for next year. We need to remember this feeling and commit ourselves to working. Life is full of disappointments and it is how you react to it that makes you who you are.”