In a see-saw battle, the Rocky River Ravens boys’ basketball team was beaten on their home court by the Sun Valley Spartans last Friday night 49-46. These two teams met just nine days earlier on the Spartans’ home floor with Sun Valley prevailing 45-42. Although the margin of victory for the Spartans was the same the second time around, the Ravens nearly came out with a win this time. This was an evenly matched game from the start.
The Ravens and Spartans both played stingy, albeit different, zone defenses. New head coach Jason Buzzard’s Ravens periodically switched from a standard 2-3 defense to a trapping 1-3-1. Both types were effective at times. Sun Valley stayed in an active matchup 2-3 zone that the Ravens had a hard time penetrating. The defenses really dictated the flow of the game, that is to say, there wasn’t any. Most of the scoring in the first half was from loose balls and turnovers. The two teams’ zone offenses had their moments but for the most part were ineffective. The Ravens lead at the end of the first quarter 13-10 and 27-24 at the half.
Both teams made adjustments at the half. Sun Valley was able to get the ball inside the Ravens’ zone in the first two minutes of the half and grabbed the lead 30-29. Rocky River was intent on pressing the Spartans, hoping for some turnovers which would lead to easy buckets. It worked to a degree but the Ravens also committed more fouls in the frenetic pace. The Spartans outscored the Ravens 15-7 in the third quarter and led 39-34 to start the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was the most exciting basketball of the night. The teams traded baskets until Ravens’ Senior Guard Tajj Howze made a steal and layup to bring the Ravens to 43-41 with 4:12 to play. After a Sun Valley timeout the Spartans extended their lead out to 47-41. This is when things got really interesting.
With less than two minutes to play and trailing by six points, the Ravens were pressing all over the court. Howze scored an old-fashioned three point play (a basket and a foul shot), making the score 47-44. The press was having an effect. Senior Guard Sidney Lawson made a steal which led to a basket and suddenly the Ravens were within one point with 23 seconds to play. After another Sun Valley timeout the press nearly led to steals three different times, but eventually the Ravens were forced to foul, with six seconds left. The Spartans shooter made both free throws and Sun Valley led 49-46. The Ravens called timeout to set up a final attempt to tie the game with a three pointer. Coach Buzzard drew up a play that worked perfectly. Unfortunately for the Ravens and the home crowd, the shot bounced off the rim and the game was over.
The Ravens’ free throw shooting was their undoing. “We were 9-19 at the foul line tonight,” Coach Buzzard said. “We can’t beat good teams shooting foul shots like that.”
The Ravens’ quickness should pay dividends down the road this season. Sidney Lawson and Tajj Howze lead a guard-heavy team that can really clamp on the defensive pressure when needed.
“We were better prepared tonight than when we played them before,” Coach Buzzard said. “We attacked their zone better, we were more confident of what we were doing. We had good looks at the basket, but just couldn’t get the ball to fall. I thought our effort and defense was where it needed to be to get us back into the game when we were down five or six points. I’m proud of the guys. The effort was there, we just fell one possession short.”
The upcoming schedule gets even tougher next week. “We play Olympic and Berry next week,” Coach Buzzard said, “So things won’t get any easier, that’s for sure.”
The Ravens current record stands at 1-3, but that might be deceiving. The team has played four close games. They won at West Mecklenburg High School 56-50, lost at Sun Valley 45-42, lost 70-66 to a very good Harding University High School team, and this most recent loss to Sun Valley 49-46.
For the team to be this competitive, this early, with a new coach bringing in totally new philosophies, bodes well for the team in the future.
The team’s schedule leading up to Christmas: December 11 at Olympic High School, December 13 at Phillip O. Berry High School, December 18 at home vs Providence High School, and December 21 at Butler High School.