SPRINGFIELD: A golden opportunity lay right in front of the Kent Roosevelt Rough Riders.
On the road in the Portage Trail Conference and facing a depleted Springfield team missing its best player, the Rough Riders had a chance to move to 4-1 in PTC Metro Division play and keep the pressure on division favorite Norton.
Instead, it was the Spartans who seized the day in a resounding 54-29 win that left both teams at 3-2 in league play.
Roosevelt (3-5, 3-2 PTC) entered the game knowing Springfield would look to play a deliberate pace, coach Ben Dunlap said, but the Rough Riders were unable to change the flow in their favor.
"We tried to speed them up,” Dunlap said. “We knew that they were going to be looking to slow it down and play more deliberately. We tried to speed them up and use our athleticism. Unfortunately it backfired and it seemed like it was a layup drill [for Springfield]."
The first half was the sort of slug-it-out affair the Spartans (6-3, 3-2 PTC) have become known for in their first year under new coach Steve Shaffer. Despite struggling mightily and not receiving any offensive help from leading scorer Corey Mitchell, Roosevelt remained within nine points thanks largely to the efforts of sophomore forward Joe Watts.
Watts had one of his best games of the season, posting more than half of his team's points (16), along with six rebounds.
Watts was able to make his mark on the boards because Springfield forward Victor Dorsey sat out of who sat the game out because of a violation of team rules. With the 6-foot-7 junior on the bench in street clothes, the Rough Riders notched a 27-23 rebounding edge, with Watts leading the way.
After reaching halftime down by nine, the Rough Riders regrouped during the break and cut their deficit to just three points.
However, the rally fizzled out as the third quarter progressed. As the Rough Riders were forced to take chances and ramp up their pressure defense to get back in the game, the Spartans were able to take advantage with good passing and aggressive cuts to the basket.
"We had a nine-point deficit that we were able to cut down to four and we had the ball, but it was all downhill from there," Dunlap added. "We played like we were stuck in mud, couldn't do what we wanted to do offensively. You've got to give Springfield credit. They passed the ball extremely well and found the open man."
For a game that was physical throughout, both teams managed to play an extremely clean contest. Roosevelt attempted just nine free throws and Springfield notched just six attempts from the charity stripe and both sides had just nine turnovers.
With Dorsey down, a smaller Springfield lineup was led by junior guard Jake Kitchen, who led all scorers with 22 points, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range. Sophomore forward Colin Floyd was the only other player in double figure for either team with 14.
With the loss, Roosevelt dropped two games behind PTC Metro leader Norton, which remains unbeaten in league play and spent its holiday break in Orlando, Fla. playing in a tournament.
Although Dunlap says he didn't have an exact number in mind for where he thought his team would be in terms of their league record at this point in the season, he admitted that being on the wrong end of a few lopsided scores has come as a surprise, even with an inexperienced team trying to find its way.
"I thought that we were going to have some growing pains, but I didn't think we would see so many games where at the end of the night we were down 20 points on the scoreboard," Dunlap said. "I thought we would be much more competitive even in those losing situations."