Flyin’ To The Hoop is always a learning experience for Trotwood-Madison coach Rocky Rockhold. That’s why he’s happy that Flyin’ boss Eric Horstman always matches his program against one that will challenge his team.
“I would be mad at Eric if he did it another way, and I love Eric to death,” Rockhold said Sunday. “You have to find out who you are, and this is a good way to do it. If people are worried about losses in January, then they’re thinking about the wrong thing.”
Rockhold’s team lost 100-78 to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, the top-ranked team in Division II. The Rams are the reigning champions, ranked No. 6 and are usually on the other side of scores like Sunday. But Rockhold learned something about his team that will be a reminder the rest of the season.
“I learned that we couldn’t sustain mental toughness when they made a run on us,” Rockhold said of the Irish’s 32-14 romp through the third quarter that obliterated the Rams’ two-point halftime lead. “Mentally we let down, and we called a couple timeouts just to talk about that. That’s a very good team obviously. I don’t feel like they’re 30 better than us, but today they were and that’s what matters. We’ve got some adjusting to do.”
St. Vincent-St. Mary (10-3) adjusted its pace during a halftime talk. The Rams (12-2) play at a faster pace and force action with their defense more than any other team. They finished the half on a 9-2 run sparked by forced turnovers.
“We got caught up in their tempo in the first half and made some uncharacteristic turnovers because we were letting them speed us up,” SVSM coach Dru Joyce said. “We want to play fast, we want to run but it’s got to be on our terms.”
While the Irish cut their second-half turnovers from 13 to five, Joyce was also pleased with his team’s half-court defense, which they got to play a lot more of because of the fewer turnovers. The Irish limited the Rams’ dribble penetration by covering the gaps better. Altogether, it got the pace at a speed Joyce wanted.
“We don’t want to play that speed,” he said. “They’re good at it so it was important to control that.”
The change of pace made 6-foot-5 junior guard Malaki Branham more effective. He scored 31 of his 44 points in the second half and finished with 11 rebounds. Branham’s size and that of 6-6 center Marcus Johnson, who had 11 points and six rebounds, is a regular obstacle for the Rams who don’t play anybody over 6-2.
“When you’re small and you can’t get out and run because you can’t rebound it’s a struggle,” Rockhold said. “We work on rebounding every day in practice, and they’ve got to understand we’re going to be outgunned when it comes to size.”
Carl Blanton, who is 6-2, is averaging 31.5 points a game, and he knows the rebounding is crucial. “Everybody has to crash the boards one through five,” he said.
Blanton also knows what it will take for the Rams to get back to Columbus for a chance to repeat as state champion. That would likely mean a rematch with SVSM.
“We learned the guys off the bench have to come in and play harder and we have to keep the pressure up in the second half like we did in the first half,” he said. “We got lackadaisical and took some plays off in the third quarter. But we’re fine. It’s just one game.”
Sammy Anderson led the Rams with 29 points, Blanton had 15 and Carter Mims had 11. They were well below their scoring average of 94.4. Another lesson in Rockhold’s memory is the 95-80 loss to Pickerington Central at Flyin’ last year. The Rams didn’t lose again. Rockhold isn’t predicting a repeat, but he believes in his team.
“Trotwood kids always respond,” he said. “They’ve always had adversity to overcome.”
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