Only one of the two main advantages the Sanderson boys basketball team held over Nash Central was evident at the opening tip of the Cleveland Classic championship game Wednesday night.
However, to go along with the decided size advantage the CAP-8 team had over the Bulldogs, the Spartans’ depth helped to wear down its opponent from the Big East 3A Conference in a 54-35 championship victory.
The defensive approach wasn’t anything special according to Sanderson coach Mike Shaw. It really was just something that played to the strength of the Spartans (8-4).
“We really just stayed the course and stuck to our game plan,” said Shaw. “ Josh Mullins was the guy we really wanted to key in on and frustrate him a little bit and I think we did a good job at doing that.
“We just wanted to use our height because we were just so much bigger than them and make them go into our big guys; kind of funnel them into the paint and that’s where our big guys were.”
With Sanderson going 11 players deep, the Spartans would often sub in three to four players at a time to maintain the level of defensive intensity required to keep the Bulldogs (4-7) in check.
Thanks to a renewed emphasis on halfcourt defense and a patient offense on the other end, Sanderson went on an 11-3 run to open the second half. The Spartans defense allowed just one basket from the field during the third quarter as they opened up an eight-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Three who mattered
Taj Thompson, Sanderson: The Spartans point guard was in complete control all game long as he ran the methodical halfcourt offense to near perfection. The senior, who was named MVP of the tournament, finished with nine points.
Antonio Freeman, Sanderson: Freeman came off the bench and gave the Spartans a lift evidenced by his 11-point, 12-rebound performance.
Josh Mullins, Nash Central: The Bulldogs leading scorer was held in check, relatively speaking, but did manage to lead his team with 14 points as he was Nash Central’s most dangerous offensive weapon.
Vince Friedman, Sanderson: The senior forward was a load for the Bulldogs to try to contend with all night long as he bulldozed his way to 12 points but, perhaps more importantly, was there waiting to alter and disrupt shots from Mullins and the other Nash Central guards when they did get into the lane.
The championship run comes at a good time for Sanderson, whose next four games against Apex, Broughton, Enloe and Millbrook will provide a tough test.
“It will definitely give us some confidence moving forward,” said Shaw. “We’re coming off of two losses in the conference so we wanted something to feel good about and this is definitely giving us a boost going back into conference play.”
By the Numbers
3: Number of made baskets in the second half for Nash Central.
7: Sanderson players who scored on the night.
8: Points tallied by Nash Central’s Elijah Cole, the Bulldogs second leading scorer on the night.
13: Offensive rebounds for Sanderson.
24: Points off the bench for the Spartans.