Southside boys basketball coach Jeff Howard delivered a motivational speech to his players Saturday night before tipoff against Anderson.
His words perhaps inspired his team as the Rebels took a one-point lead into halftime against the superior Indians. Southside pushed its advantage to five in the opening minutes of the third period, but then Howard watched an all too familiar and painful scenario unfold.
The Indians cranked up their defensive pressure and the Rebels wilted as a five-point advantage turned into an 18-point deficit before the horn finally sounded on a disastrous third period. That deficit only ballooned in the fourth as Anderson cruised to a 72-50 victory.
Howard noted his team (1-8) played to the final horn against New Castle and Winchester, but Saturday marked the seventh game where the Rebels lost momentum and, in his opinion, then mentally checked out.
“When they got the news they merged the schools, I think you took these kids’ soul,” Howard said. “… When you take somebody’s soul, and this is what I see, physically, oh, they’re here. They can run and jump with anybody, but their soul’s not in it. Their passion’s not in it.”
The Rebels withstood nine turnovers in the first half with an outstanding effort on the defensive end and by attacking the boards for rebounds. Once the Rebels started turning the ball over in the third period, though, they took questionable shots and stopped playing with defensive intensity against an Anderson team (3-4) that drove into the lane for one uncontested layup after another.
“In the second half, we didn’t come out and play as a team like we did in the first half,” said Southside senior Darcel Hunt, who scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds. “We kind of let them get whatever shots they wanted down low in the post, unlike the first half we kind of shut them out.”
Overall, Southside shot just 1-of-9 from the field with six turnovers as Anderson closed the third quarter on a 25-2 run.
Anderson guard Kenya Wilkerson outscored the Rebels 12-6 on his own in the period, blowing by his defenders to either convert layups or draw fouls. Wilkerson scored a game-high 23 points for the Indians.
“We just break down and then we compound it by either not guarding our man or coming down on offense and throwing up a wild shot,” Howard said. “Now you’re back on defense and you give up another and you look up and you’re down five. Then you just keep that pattern up and you look up and you’re down 10.
“That’s when the heads hang and when their heads hang, Jesus could coach and they won’t listen to him.”
Howard lives in Anderson. He served as the Anderson Highland coach before the merger and then assisted at Anderson for one season before taking over the Southside program.
Hunt said the players sensed the importance of the game for their coach and felt they let him down.
“It’s really frustrating, especially with it being our coach’s hometown team,” Hunt said. “He had high hopes for our team to come out tonight and do really well. We kind of let him down in the second half not coming together like we know how to.”