UTICA — The Utica Redskins were right where they wanted to be on Monday night — in a tied game with the ball as time wound down — but a late turn of events cost them a good shot at a victory against the visiting Lakewood Lancers. Utica lost the game, 47-45, ending a five-game winning streak.
After battling fairly even for the first 31 minutes, the two teams found themselves tied after a free throw by Adam Ridenbaugh with 1:38 to play. Ironically, free-throw shooting, or the lack there of, is what led to Utica’s demise. Justin Dassylva was fouled as he was bringing the ball up the court on the next possession and he missed both free throws, which would have given Utica the lead.
Lakewood rebounded the ball and then proceeded to run the clock down into the final seconds before Ross Watts drove the baseline for the go-ahead basket with 5.2 seconds left. The Redskins then turned the ball over after getting it inbounds. A quick foul and a missed free throw set up a rebound by Dassylva, who then raced to halfcourt before throwing up a shot that missed left as time expired.
“This one, especially with the way we’ve been playing lately, stings a little bit because we were right where we wanted to be,” said Utica coach Eric Sheck. “Our kids never stopped battling. We just didn’t make shots. We were 5-of-17 from the foul line; it is tough to beat teams if you are going to shoot 5-of-17 from the foul line and our guys know that. It is a matter of execution. Our kids’ effort was outstanding; we kept battling. It just came down to executing and making some shots.”
Both teams came out of the gate firing away. Kyle Walton took a pass from Joe Metzger and drained a 3-pointer to start the game for Utica, but back-to-back buckets by Bryan Large put the Lancers on top. Utica then retook the lead after a putback from Dassylva and another 3 from Walton, who hit five on the night. Those shots also began to show a pattern as both teams put points up on the scoreboard. Watts scored nine of Lakewood’s next 11 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:18 to play, to put the Lancers on top, 15-12. Eleven seconds later, however, Walton had matched Watts’ shot and the game was tied. A Dassylva Layup put Utica ahead before five straight points by Watts and Large gave Lakewood a 20-17 lead after one quarter.
“We knew that they had two pretty good scorers, and our goal was to limit those two guys,” said Sheck. “We tried to play the zone in the first quarter, but obviously it didn’t work. Those two kids jumped on us. We didn’t want to make it a running game because that’s not our style, but unfortunately that’s what happened in the first quarter.”
Wanting to slow the game down, Sheck has his team passing the ball around more in the second quarter. Dassylva hit a 3-pointer to open the quarter, but five points by Large and a layup by Joe Cramer made it a seven-point game, 27-20, just over four minutes into the quarter. Utica closed the quarter with five straight points, however, to pull within two as halftime.
Lakewood’s two-headed monster of Watts and Large accounted for 24 of its 27 first-half points. Sheck knew if his team would have a shot in the second half, it would have to find a way to slow the Lancer attack.
Utica came out firing in the third quarter, scoring a layup by Adam Ridenbaugh and another 3 by Walton to go ahead, 30-27. Lakewood, however, responded with three straight 3-pointers of its own — one by Large, Watts and Justin White — to resume the lead. The Redskins cut it by three, 36-33, over the next few minutes, but a last-second jumper by Troy Kurtz lifted Lakewood ahead by five after three.
Not giving up, Utica got an 8-2 surge early in the fourth quarter to go up, 41-40. Walton had five of those points and Austin Boggs converted a three-point play. Large and Watts answered for Lakewood, however, scoring a 3-pointer and a layup, respectively. Walton responded with his fifth 3 off a Dassylva pass with 2:22 left, and Ridenbaugh’s free-throw shot tied the game at 45 and set up the finish.
“We had to slow them down if we wanted to get back into the game,” said Sheck. “Our kids battled. We challenged our kids, and Metzger stepped up and did a better job of guarding Large. We also put a lot of pressure on Kyle (Walton) to step up and guard Watts, and he did a nice job in the second half. He also knocked down some big shots to keep us in the game.”
Walton had a game-high 22 points for Utica, which also saw Dassylva put together a solid game. He finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and six blocks.
Watts led Lakewood with 19 points and six steals, and Large had 18 points and six rebounds.
Utica took the junior varsity contest over the Lancers, 49-42. Broc Stradley led Utica with 14 points, and Austin Brown finished with 11 points. Artie Douglas added five points.
The Redskins are back in action on Friday, traveling to take on Fredericktown in a Mid-Buckeye Conference game.
“We’ve got to keep battling,” Sheck said. “We’ve got six seniors, and they’ve grown on the court and off all season long. I’m proud of them so far because they continue to battle night in and night out. We’ll be OK because the kids are playing hard. We’ve got a big one on Friday against Fredericktown, who has had our number since I’ve been here. The kids will get back after it and we’ll prove we are better than this.”