Boys basketball: Tolliver’s career-high lifts Springfield past Beavercreek

CUTLINE: Springfield High School senior Josh Tolliver shoots the ball over Beavercreek junior Gabe Phillips during their game on Friday night in Springfield. Tolliver scored a career-high 37 points as the Wildcats won 74-71. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER
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CUTLINE: Springfield High School senior Josh Tolliver shoots the ball over Beavercreek junior Gabe Phillips during their game on Friday night in Springfield. Tolliver scored a career-high 37 points as the Wildcats won 74-71. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

Credit: Michael Cooper

Credit: Michael Cooper

SPRINGFIELD — The secret to Josh Tolliver’s career night wasn’t a pre-game ritual or extra shooting in practice — it was a new Nike headband he purchased earlier in the week.

“I think it was the headband to be honest,” Tolliver said. “It was special. I saw the little dirt mark on it so I had to pick it up.”

The Springfield High School senior scored a career-high 37 points, including the game-clinching free throw with 10.4 seconds remaining, as the Wildcats beat visiting Beavercreek 74-71 on Friday night in Springfield.

The Wildcats improved to 5-4 and 5-2 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference, despite a 10-day layoff because of cancellations due to COVID-19 protocols.

“It was a long 10 days, but we’ve been practicing very hard,” Tolliver said. “I’m just happy we got the win.”

Beavercreek senior Si Baldwin scored 28 points, while junior Gabe Phillips had 19 points and four blocks and junior Jamir Hymes added 11 points as the Beavers fell to 3-9 and 1-6

“It’s tough,” said Beavers coach Steve Pittman. “We’re still fighting. We’re still missing our top two scorers. I’ve got to get home and (watch the film). Turnovers obviously killed us. When we were composed and made one to two passes, we were getting open layups. Our inability to get back in transition hurt us.”

The Wildcats last took the floor against Fairmont on Tuesday, Jan. 12. During the layoff, Springfield coach Shawn McCullough used the practice time to work on skills and installed several new wrinkles, including a 2-3 zone.

“We practiced really hard this week,” McCullough said. “I never thought we were going to have an issue having a whole week off because of how hard they went in practice. I’m proud of the way they played today.”

With Beavercreek’s height advantage, the Wildcats played a full-court press defense that became a 2-3 zone in the halfcourt. Springfield used its pressure to cause turnovers that led to easy buckets in transition.

“We’ve shown it here and there from time to time and it’s been successful,” McCullough said. “It’s one of those things where they’re so big, let’s try to slow them down in a 2-3 and get three guys down there at the bottom.”

Beavercreek jumped out to a 26-22 lead in the second quarter, but the Wildcats went on a 16-3 run capped by a dunk by Springfield junior Eddie Muhammad to take a 38-29 lead.

Beavercreek tied the score at 49 on a bucket by Baldwin late in the third quarter. Springfield fought back to take an 8-point lead at 69-61 on a layup by Tolliver with about 1:30 remaining.

The Beavers pulled to within two points on a basket by Baldwin with about 15 seconds remaining, but Tolliver converted a 3-point play with 10.4 seconds on the next possession to seal the Wildcats victory.

The Beavers struggled to execute, but never gave up, Pittman said. They’ll return their two leading scorers Adam Duvall and Kyle Putnam in the next few weeks, which will provide continuity and confidence as they look to make a run in the postseason. The Beavers advanced to the D-I districts last winter.

“We want to get back on the right track come tournament time,” Pittman said. “I like our chances against anyone.”

Tolliver has scored in double-digits every game this season and didn’t miss a beat after the long layoff, McCullough said. The senior is the second-leading scorer in the GWOC at 18.3 points per game and ranks first in shooting percentage at 62.9 percent.

“He can score at all three levels and that’s the beautiful thing,” McCullough said. “He was 3-for-4 from the 3-point line, made some mid-range and got to the basket. That’s always my request to all of my players, attacking the basket. Josh did a phenomenal job.”

As the season progresses, Tolliver has also become the team’s leader on and off the court.

“He’s bought into what I’m selling,” McCullough said. “We talk every day through text and sometimes on the phone. He’s my guy. He’s a leader.”

The headband will likely become a permanent part of Tolliver’s uniform.

“I was just shooting it and I was in a rhythm,” Tolliver said. “I didn’t shoot a lot of contested shots and they just fell.”