Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
FRANKFORT — There will be no Gold Ball in the SVC this season. The Adena Warriors have made sure of that.
After falling to Unioto by a 55-45 final on Jan. 2, the Warriors faced a simple scenario on Saturday. A win would force a tie atop the conference standings and a loss would hand Unioto a share of the league crown.
They chose the former.
Thanks to a superb defensive showing, and a second half surge via Preston Sykes, Adena (17-2, 11-1 SVC) topped Unioto by a 48-42 final, handing the Shermans their first league loss.
“I thought we handled adversity really well,” Adena coach Kyle Bradley said. “Basketball is a game of runs and it was a physical game. There’s been times where we haven’t handled the physicality well in the past. We’ve allowed it to fester in our minds. But tonight, that didn’t happen. And we had a really solid night on the defensive end.”
While Sykes came on late, carrying Adena’s offense to the finish line, Jarrett Garrison was a man on fire early. The Warriors’ guard set the pace, scoring eight of his 11 points in the first half.
He then handed the torch to Sykes while getting help from Dillon Mcdonald and Nate Throckmorton while Unioto’s defense was preoccupied with containing Logan Bennett.
“The coaches in our league do a really good job of taking your best player away,” Bradley said. “Dillon McDonald hit a big 3 and Nate Throckmorton just handled the ball well and got us into different spots. Jarrett was key for us. When he’s healthy, he makes the game easy for guys around him. Then Preston, he’s just a winner. I’ve never coached a kid like him that just finds a way to get it done when you need it. You win a lot of games when you have a group like that.”
Adena shot out to a 6-0 lead thanks to buckets from Sykes and Bennett. Unioto’s Isaac Little scored the Shermans’ first points with 3:20 left in the first quarter before DeSean Branson tallied back-to-back lay-ins, cutting Adena’s lead to 8-6.
Garrison then ended the quarter’s scoring with a basket at the 1:06 mark, making it 10-6.
In the second, McDonald gave the Warriors a 14-11 lead with 5:07 to play. Little answered on the other end before McDonald and Sykes followed suit, putting the Warriors ahead 18-13. With 1:22 left, Branson scored Unioto’s final bucket in the first half.
Garrison then scored with 57.2 and 1.2 seconds left, giving Adena a 22-15 lead at halftime.
Out of the break, the Warriors instantly went to work on stretching their advantage. Sykes scored twice in a row, pushing the edge to 28-19 with 5:57 left, before later making it a 35-25 game — the largest lead of the night.
But Unioto had a counter-attack planned as Carson DeBord hit two free throws and scored with 2.1 seconds left, cutting the deficit to 35-29 heading into the final eight minutes.
That trend continued in the fourth as the Warriors were forced to contain a furious Sherman rally.
DeBord hit two freebies with 5:48 left, making it a 38-34 ballgame, before Little scored with 3:57 remaining, cutting the lead to 38-36. Sykes and Garrison combined to make it a 40-36 lead with 3:10 left before Branson made it a 40-39 game with a bucket at the 1:51 mark.
But with 33.6 seconds left, Sykes connected with Bennett for the night’s most important play.
On an inbound play from just below his own basket, Sykes threw a hail mary style pass to a streaking Bennett down the court. The senior was fouled and willed the shot into the basket before making it a 43-39 lead with an old-fashioned three-point play.
From there, the Warriors hit their free throw attempts when prompted and put away and important victory.
Sykes’ 17 points, four rebounds and four assists led the Warriors while Bennett added 13 points and seven rebounds. Garrison ended with 11 points and four assists, and McDonald ended the night with seven points.
Unioto (13-4, 11-1 SVC) was led by Branson with 11 points while Little had nine points of his own. Carson DeBord finished with seven points, Cameron DeBord had six points and three rebounds, and Greenwalt finished with five points.
Adena is back in action on Friday at Zane Trace while the Shermans get back at it the same evening, hosting Southeastern.
Both teams need to win their last two conference games to split the league crown. So keeping focus throughout that stretch is a must.
As Bradley pointed it out, the Warriors have taken a big step but the work is far from finished.
“We’re not done yet. We’ve been a desperate basketball team since Jan. 2. That’s been my push to the guys,” Bradley said. “I’ve told them, ‘Yeah, the 30th is a big game. But if we slip up between now and then, it doesn’t matter if we win that night.’ If we slip up now, the league title goes out the window. Zane Trace is a well-coached basketball team. They’re big and physical. We have to be able to handle that.”
Unioto: 6-9-14-13 — 42
Adena: 10-12-13-13 — 48
Unioto: 15-31 FG, 10-16 FT, 2-8 3pt., 22 rebounds (Markko 6), 16 turnovers, 6 assists (Cam. DeBord 2). Scoring: Branson 11, Little 9, Car. DeBord 7, Cam. DeBord 6, Greenwalt 5, Galloway 4.
Adena: 20-38 FG, 7-14 FT, 1-6 3pt., 20 rebounds (Bennett 7), 9 turnovers, 10 assists (Sykes 4, Garrison 4). Scoring: Sykes 17, Bennett 13, Garrison 11, McDonald 7.