Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — As he walked into his locker room Saturday night, Unioto coach Matt Hoops thought about what he wanted to say to his players.
His team had just won a game that nobody thought they could win, had executed a game plan to perfection, and had made a resounding statement to the rest of the Scioto Valley Conference.
“I stood right there and said that I had never been more proud of a team,” Hoops said, pointing to a spot in the Shermans’ locker room. “I’ve been extremely proud of all of our teams. Don’t get me wrong. But none of them have topped this one, simply because of the effort they played with. It was just outstanding. We couldn’t have asked them to play any harder.”
The Shermans (6-0, 4-0 SVC) remained undefeated with a hard-fought 38-36 victory over Zane Trace, the defending conference champion, in a game full of emotion, intensity and baskets that were hard to come by.
Unioto’s game plan centered around a stout defensive attack, which was the catalyst in a win that snapped Zane Trace’s 17-game conference winning streak.
“It all starts with our defense,” junior Isaac Little said. “Tonight, we played a heck of a game on defense. [Cam DeBord] played a heck of a game. That sometimes goes unnoticed but he deserves some credit. Same way with [Nate] Keiser and Gunnar [Greenwalt]. We forced [Zane Trace] into some tough shots and give credits to our bigs, too. They did a good job.”
Little, despite the humble answer, was once again the floor general for the Shermans.
As his killer instinct kicked in, Little tallied 13 points, six rebounds and four assists. He seemed to make a big play every single time his needed it.
“We have big goals for this season,” he said. “This isn’t a game where we came in and … I mean, we thought we were going to win this game. We weren’t surprised. We thought this was going to happen.”
While Little was excellent as usual, DeBord was his partner in crime. Coming off the bench, the lefty scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and passed out two assists.
He provided the spark Unioto needed to top its arch nemesis.
“I think we’ve come closer as a team. We’re closer than we ever have been,” DeBord said. “We’ve started communicating more and helping on defense. Our game plan was to limit [Zane Trace’s Cam] Evans the ball and stay off help when he had the ball. We wanted to guard normal on the other guards and stay behind on bigs. We just wanted to play the team defense we play.”
Coming into the game, Zane Trace (7-1, 3-1 SVC) was averaging 63.1 points per game. Saturday, the Pioneers didn’t have a player reach double-digit scoring figures and didn’t score more than 12 points in any quarter.
Zane Trace’s previous scoring low was 56 points in a win over Logan Elm on Dec. 5.
“I don’t think we could’ve asked our kids to execute any better,” Hoops said. “It was going to take a team effort to stop them. We were able to kind of limit Evans’ touches and that was the key. He did get the basketball and when he got it, our team guarded him as opposed to one or two guys. We knew for us to have a chance, we had to limit them to one shot, which I felt like we did for the most part.”
Tale of the Tape
Zane Trace jumped out to a 6-2 lead with buckets from Evans and Nick Nesser. Little then hit a 3 to cut the lead to one before ZT’s Colby Swain scored his first bucket, making it 8-5. With 2:10 left in the first quarter, DeBord hit his first 3 to tie the score before Little hit his second triple to give the Tanks their first lead at 11-10. Evans scored the quarter’s final bucket, making it 12-11.
In the second, the Pioneers took a 22-15 lead after Luke Johnson dialed long distance at the 3:07 mark. However, Unioto finished the first half on a 6-0 run, cutting ZT’s advantage to 22-21 at halftime.
Out of the break, ZT’s Triton Davidson scored before Carson DeBord hit a 3 to force a 24-24 tie. Carson DeBord then scored again with 5:50 left, putting Unioto on top 26-24. Later, Davidson gave the Pioneers a 28-26 lead with 3:12 left before Unioto took a 30-28 lead, via Little, into the final eight-minute period.
In the fourth, Little found Cameron DeBord to give the Shermans a 36-32 lead with 2:28 remaining. From there, Little hit two free throws as the Tanks grinded the clock and held on for a pivotal two-point win in league play.
“It’s just focus, attention to detail and being locked in on what you’re trying to do,” Hoops said. “We say it all the time; we want to play to our standards, not our opponents’ standards. Our kids get all the credit.”
After Little and Cameron DeBord’s final stat lines, Reece Wheeler added five points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Carson DeBord finished with five points and Josh Lambert added four points and five boards.
For Zane Trace, Colby Swain, Nick Nesser and Triton Davidson all had eight points. Swain added five rebounds and three assists, Nesser had three boards, and Davidson finished with eight rebounds. Evans ended the night with seven points, three rebounds and two assists.
What’s on Tap
Both teams will now enjoy a holiday break before returning to action next weekend. Unioto hosts Jackson on Dec. 27 while the Pioneers try and bounce back at Chillicothe on the same evening.
“This was the biggest stretch, we felt for us, as far as tough games in a row,” Hoops said. “You go Zane Trace, Jackson and at Fairfield Union on a quick turnaround, then right back into league play with Adena, I don’t know if there’s a tougher stretch for anyone in our conference. That’s just where we are. We’re just fortunate to get this one tonight and have a good feeling moving forward.”
Zane Trace: 12-10-6-8 — 36
Unioto: 11-10-9-8 — 38
Zane Trace: 14-45 FG, 5-8 FT, 1-11 3pt., 23 rebounds (Davidson 8), 10 turnovers, 8 assists (Swain 3). Scoring: Nesser 8, Davidson 8, Swain 8, Evans 7, L. Johnson 3, B. Johnson 2.
Unioto: 15-39 FG, 3-5 FT, 5-14 3pt., 28 rebounds (Wheeler 9), 10 turnovers, 8 assists (Little 4). Scoring: Little 13, Cam. DeBord 9, Car. DeBord 5, Wheeler 5, Lambert 4, Greenwalt 2.