DAYTON — It’s no secret, no matter the game matchup nor team makeup, that basketball —especially tournament basketball —is all about making shots.
Or, not making shots.
Unfortunately first on Thursday for the Fairland Lady Dragons and second on Friday for the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates, those shots just did not, could not, and would not fall.
For Fairland’s tale of the tape, see the related game story in this edition of The Portsmouth Daily Times.
But the numbers never lie, and they shot just 28-percent on 14-of-50 —but even more glaring was the three-point happy Lady Dragons drilling just two, out of 17 total.
Those of you into counting, that’s 12-percent.
For the Lady Pirates, playing in the program’s first-ever state semifinal, it was an adjustment of course with depth perception — and the shooting backgrounds inside University of Dayton Arena are much different than your run-of-the-mill high school gymnasiums.
Then throw in the atmosphere of the coveted state tournament, those expected first-time jitters, and the fact that Columbus Africentric’s lightning speed sped the Lady Pirates up.
The end result was Wheelersburg doing one better, or rather worse, on shot attempts than did the Lady Dragons the day before.
The Lady Pirates posted a 14-of-51 shooting performance for 27-and-a-half percent, including only 3-of-16 from three-point territory, en route to their 55-37 Division III loss to the Lady Nubians.
Wheelersburg finishes a dream season at 25-3, its only other two defeats to archrival West —which swept the Lady Pirates in winning its first-ever Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship, and snapping Wheelersburg’s 62-game SOC II win streak.
Friday’s finale tied the Lady Pirates’ season-low for points, which they only scored 37 in a 37-32 rockfight win at Waverly —the day after New Year’s Day.
Wheelersburg’s perimeter-oriented offense, per two-decades long head coach Dusty Spradlin, has been “a work in progress” —per points in this season.
However, a finished product needed to showcase against Africentric —the state powerhouse that is two full decades in existence, but has seven state championships, a pair of state runner-ups, and a dozen state semifinal appearances.
All of the aforementioned is since 2007.
Against the Lady Nubians, Wheelersburg never led —trailing by as many as 22 (45-23) with six minutes and 37 seconds remaining.
The Lady Nubians did what they said they would do, and what Wheelersburg certainly expected —throwing a high-intensity full-court press at it, whether it be man-to-man or even zone.
The first-half damage was Wheelersburg trailing 27-13, as the Lady Pirates shot just 5-of-28 from the field for 18-percent —and only 1-of-9 from three-point range.
Madison Whittaker was the three-point maker, while Makenna Walker, Lexie Rucker, Kiera Kennard and Jocelyn Tilley all had one two.
For a span of five minutes and 48 seconds, the Lady Pirates went scoreless —adapting to Africentric’s relentless pressure and foremost speed.
Ten of the Lady Nubians’ first-half points came off turnovers, as they shut out the Lady Pirates 12-0 on fast-break points.
Spradlin said he knew what was coming with the Lady Nubians’ defense, but Wheelersburg was simply unable to find the bottom of the net.
“Their speed was obviously something we were aware of, but it’s just difficult to try and prepare for that and simulate that in practice,” said the coach. “It took us a while to get settled in, but we struggled rebounding the ball, and struggled shooting the ball.”
That last remark is the highlight.
As a team, no player on Wheelersburg’s senior-laden lineup was exempt —aside from the defensive specialist Kennard.
She scored a career-high 10 in fact, making 5-of-7 all told.
Rucker and Macee Eaton added three-point goals to Whittaker’s one, but they didn’t happen until inside four minutes remaining.
Rucker and Walker were 3-of-11 apiece, and Whittaker on eight shots and Eaton on 10 tallied just their three-point goals.
Spradlin said “everything was rushed.”
“Like I said, the girls were aware of all that, but their speed is so hard to simulate. Until you’re in the moment and until you see that speed and then get a feel for it…we’ve faced some fast players before, it’s just the team speed. We talked a lot about trying to get settled in early and get comfortable. It took us longer than I would like for us to be comfortable,” he said. “We struggled making shots, but a lot of that can be attributed to them and their total defensive speed. It makes it tough on you. The first half, I thought we didn’t get a lot of good ball movement or player movement. But we working so hard just to try and get the ball up the court.”
Whittaker was one of those guards, and explained the degree of difficulty she and her Lady Pirates teammates faced.
“I don’t think we’ve faced a team that was that fast,” she said. “We try to mimic it in practice and everything like that, but it’s hard to mimic that same speed in practice versus a game because it’s just totally different.”
No doubt, shooting at the state tournament — or any level of mid-March tournament basketball — is indeed an altogether altered universe.
Unfortunately for Wheelersburg on Friday, following Fairland from Thursday, they found that world first-hand.