By CHRIS RAMBO
SALINEVILLE-One month ago, Southern Local coach George Whittaker decided to switch his team from its traditional man-to-man defense to a zone. The results have far exceeded his expectations.
In Tuesday's Div. III sectional opener against Crestview, the fifth-seeded Indians continued their late-season defensive tear, using a dominating third quarter to push past the sixth-seeded Rebels 55-43 at Southern Local High School.
Sophomore point guard Troy Holden finished with 11 points and seven assists, while pestering his way to five steals as the Indians (16-7) held the Rebels scoreless in the third quarter expanding a one-point halftime lead to 19.
"We came out of halftime rejuvenated mentally," Holden said. "We came out with the mind set that we really wanted to take it to them defensively."
Southern senior M.J. Williams menaced Crestview's inside game, finishing with five blocks to go with seven rebounds, while senior Jared Shilot had four steals and three blocks to go with his 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"Too hold a team scoreless for a whole quarter is quite an accomplishment," Whittaker said. "We got a lot more active than we had been the entire game."
It was apparent right away in the third quarter that the Indians had turned their aggression up a notch. As soon as Crestview entered the ball inside, multiple Southern defenders immediately converged with a double team. On many Crestview possessions during that frame the Indians got their hands on the ball in some form via a block, tip or steal, leading to some easy buckets on offense.
"That was the most aggressive we've been this year," Holden said. "Every time we'd get a turnover. The other guys would get more and more excited. It was a lot of fun."
The Rebels had some open shots from the outside but could get nothing to drop. Josh McDade led the Rebels with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Eric Lloyd had 10 points and seven rebounds.
"We hadn't played against that type of defense but we scouted for it and were prepared for it, but they have done a great job late in the year," Crestview coach Herman Miller said. "The were more aggressive and disrupted the ball more than I had seen all year. We had some good looks early in the quarter but couldn't hit them. Once things started going wrong it just snowballed on us."
Things finally loosened up for the Rebels in the fourth quarter, but they could get no closer than 12 points. Up next for the Indians is a sectional final showdown at third-seeded Lisbon. The Indians debuted their zone defense a month ago at Lisbon and used it to upset the Blue Devils 49-44. They have only lost once since.
"We wanted a matchup with Lisbon coming into the tournament," Whittaker said. "We didn't hesitate in putting ourselves in their half of the bracket. We know they will make some adjustments but we feel comfortable with our gameplan."
Southern had a school-record 13 blocks in the game.
The Rebels conclude the season at 10-13. Several players got a late start due to the Rebels extended run in the state playoffs.
"It was a crazy year no doubt, and we were disappointed it didn't go better," Miller said. "I did feel we were starting to get better late in the season but tonight not much went right."
Whittaker was surprised Crestview chose to play at Southern at the tournament draw.
"I was surprised at their strategy," Whittaker said. "They could have opted for an open bracket and had an easier game at home. We used it as ammunition for our team. We saw it as them challenging us."
CRESTVIEW SCORING: Dylan Hart 0-0-0, Evan Beachler 1-0-3, Collin Gilbert 3-0-7, Josh McDade 5-2-12, Eric Lloyd 4-2-10, Aaron Muntean 1-0-3, Tyler Stratton 1-0-2, Enzo Lucci 1-2-4, Elijah McCallum 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 6-15: 43.
SOUTHERN SCORING: M.J. Williams 3-2-8, Jared Shilot 6-0-13, Andrew Russell 2-1-5, Troy Holden 4-3-11, Aron Sevek 3-1-7, Caleb Gotschall 2-0-4, Tim Thrasher 2-0-4, Christian Adkins 0-3-3. TEAM TOTALS: 22, 10-17: 55.
Three-point goals: Crestview 3 (Beachler, Gilbert, Muntean), Southern 1 (Shilot).