Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Unioto coach Matt Hoops said it best during the postgame address to his team.
“I just told the guys that I’ve been a head coach for 15 seasons and I can’t remember an easy win yet, especially the first one,” Hoops said. “They’re all tough. You just have to find a way to win.”
That may never have been more true than on Tuesday night.
With less than two minutes to go, Unioto surrendered the lead at 38-37. But following a timeout, the Shermans (20-3) scored the next eight points to hand Hillsboro a 45-38 loss in a Division II sectional semifinal at Southeastern High School.
“I was really proud of them. We were down with 1:57 left and scored the next eight points. So, that’s a credit to our guys, keeping their composure and finishing the game the way it’s supposed to be finished.”
As inferred, Hillsboro (9-14) gave Unioto everything it wanted and then some.
The Indians forced 17 turnovers, contested every shot at every juncture, and heavily pressured the Shermans’ guards for the majority of the second half.
“They’re scrappy, they’re athletic, they’re long … and they’re good,” Hoops said of Hillsboro. “The conference they play in has two of the best teams in the Southeast District in Chillicothe and Jackson. They play those guys a total of four times. It’s win or go home at this point. All [tournament] games are tough. But that’s especially true for the first one.”
Out of the gates, Hillsboro wasted no time letting Unioto know it was in for a battle.
The Indians quickly took a 6-0 lead, forcing the Shermans to call a timeout with 4:44 left in the first quarter. But out of the break, Unioto’s Josh Lambert hit a 3 and Jeremy Lambert followed with a mid-range pull-up, cutting the lead to 6-5.
That was the start of a 10-0 run as the Shermans took a 10-6 lead into the second.
“You’re going to come out one of two ways … with your hair on fire or it may take you that punch in the mouth to realize you’re bleeding a little bit,” Hoops said. “We’re down 6-0 and our bench came to the rescue and gave us good minutes. Josh hit a big 3, Jeremy hit a big pull-up and we relaxed and moved on from there.”
The back-and-forth continued in the second while Unioto relied on Josh Lambert to set the pace. At halftime, he had a team-high seven points, leading Unioto to a 21-15 edge at the half.
“Josh is really athletic. He can shoot the ball from the perimeter and inside as well,” Hoops said. “He played how you’re supposed to. He played fearless, man. He was relentless on both ends. If you play like that, good things are going to happen for you. Obviously, good things happened for Josh, which means good things happened for us.”
Little hit a trey with 6:41 to go before Lambert tacked on his second triple and a bucket at the 4:17 mark, making it 31-27 before the Shermans took a 35-27 lead into the fourth.
That’s when the Indians made their final stand.
Behind the trio of Ryan Scott, Jakwon Clark and Caleb Crawford, Hillsboro ripped off an 11-2 lead to take a 38-37 lead with 1:57 remaining.
The Shermans were forced to call a timeout but, whatever was said in that huddle, sparked a fire.
As cool as the other side of the pillow, Unioto took a collective deep breath and ended the evening on an 8-0 run for a seven-point win.
Lambert led all scorers with 16 points while Little ended the night with 14 points and three assists. Jeremy Lambert finished with four points and five rebounds, and Reece Wheeler had four points and six boards.
Crawford led Hillsboro with 12 points and five rebounds, Hunter Price had 11 points and Clark ended the evening with 10 points.
Unioto now advances to a Division II sectional final against Waverly at 7 p.m., Saturday at Southeastern.
“[Boxing out] is always something we have to work on. A lot of times, late in the season, you go away from those types of drills just because you want to keep your guys fresh,” Hoops said. “But sometimes, you have to revisit them. I’m pretty sure that’s something we’ll look into. It’s one through five. Both teams are very athletic. But we’re going to have our hands full.”
Hillsboro: 6-9-12-11 — 38
Unioto: 10-11-14-10 — 45
Hillsboro: 16-45 FG, 3-9 FT, 3-9 3 pt., 18 rebounds (Crawford 5), 9 turnovers, 6 assists (Miller 3). Scoring: Crawford 12, Price 11, Clark 10, Scott 5.
Unioto: 17-34 FG, 8-9 FT, 3-6 3 pt., 30 rebounds (Wheeler 6), 17 turnovers, 9 assists (Little 3). Scoring: Jo. Lambert 16, Little 14, Wheeler 4, Je. Lambert 4, Park 2, Cam. DeBord 2, Car. DeBord 2, Markko 1.