Friday, February 13, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills repeats as River City champion

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills freshmen Bears overcame a five-point halftime deficit to win the River City Conference tournament championship game 52-40 over Jacksonville on Thursday night at the Devils’ Den. The win brings the second-straight conference tournament plaque to Sherwood after last year’s freshmen won it in Sheridan.

Jacksonville led 15-12 at the end of the first quarter, and the freshmen Red Devils pushed their lead to 25-20 at the half, but Sylvan Hills took over the second half with stellar shot selection and smothering defense.

In the second half, the freshmen Bears made 12 of 14 shots from the floor and forced 16 Jacksonville turnovers. The Red Devils had just five turnovers in the first two quarters of play.

“I’m not surprised, because these guys are the first ones in the gym and the last ones to leave,” said Sylvan Hills coach Willie Larry Jr. of his team’s play in the second half.

“They have been coachable to a T. They didn’t win any games as seventh-graders, and they won two as eighth-graders. They believed in us coaches and they were coachable to the end, and I’m proud of these guys.”

Sylvan Hills made its first four shots of the third quarter. Those four buckets along with a pair of free throws by J.D. Smith led to a 10-5 Bears run that tied the game at 30.

The game-tying points came on a Charles Smith steal and dish up court to teammate Zion Butler, who scored on a transition lay-in. That forced Jacksonville coach Brandon Weems to call timeout with 3:41 left in the quarter.

With 2:39 left in the third, Sylvan Hills took its first lead of the half on a left-handed lay-in by J.D. Smith, which made the score 34-32. It was the Bears’ first time ahead on the board since leading 5-2 early in the first quarter.

Jacksonville battled back and eventually tied the game at 38-38 on a Darrius Martin 3-pointer at the 1:38 mark of the third, but Sylvan Hills took the lead again on the ensuing possession with an inside bucket by Alex Curry.

Curry’s bucket put the Bears up 40-38, and that was the score at the end of three. Jacksonville struggled against the Bears’ defense in the fourth quarter, and could only manage one basket on 1 of 6 shooting.

With 2:07 left to play, Sylvan Hills went up 48-40 on an acrobatic, one-handed lay-in by Butler that was highly contested. With 48.5 seconds remaining, the Bears went up double digits, 50-40, with a pair of one-and-one free throws by Brandon Dupree.

As the final seconds ticked away, the Bears added the last points of the night on a transition basket by Charles Smith, which was the result of another Jacksonville turnover.

Once the clock ran out, the Bears celebrated the win by taking hold of the tournament championship plaque at midcourt.

“They’re unselfish,” Larry said of his team. “On the back of their (pre-game) shirts it says family, and when they are unselfish, we can accomplish big things. We’re trying to build a culture at Sylvan Hills, and it’s time. It’s time.”

For the game, the Bears made 20 of 35 shots from the floor for 57 percent. Jacksonville finished the game 15 for 36 from the floor for 42 percent.

From 3-point range, the Red Devils made 8 of 14 attempts for 57 percent. Sylvan Hills made 2 of 10 shots from beyond the arc for 20 percent, and all of its 3-point attempts came in the first half.

At the free-throw line, Jacksonville made 2 of 5 attempts, and had zero trips to the line in the second half. Sylvan Hills made 10 of 13 free throws, including 8 of 9 in the second half.

The Bears outrebounded the Red Devils 16-14, and Sylvan Hills had fewer turnovers as well; finishing with 14 to Jacksonville’s total of 21.

Jacksonville had two different players score in double figures. Braylon Hawkins led all scorers with 16 points, and Martin had 13 points.

Sylvan Hills had three different players score in double figures. J.D. Smith and Butler led the Bears with 12 points each, and Charles Smith scored 10.

With the win, the freshmen Bears finish their championship season with a 16-8 overall record.