Isaiah Carson couldn’t help himself. Deep into a back-and-forth boys high school basketball struggle at Beavercreek on Tuesday night, Springfield’s coach lobbed a one-liner at new Beavercreek coach Steve Pittman.
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They each laughed, just like old times as the Beavers and Wildcats relentlessly hounded each other.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” Carson said. “We go way back.”
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The coaching fraternity is a tight and loyal group, no matter the sport. Carson is in his 10th season as Springfield’s head coach and has built the Wildcats into a major Division I power, fulfilling the promise envisioned when North and South high schools merged. Contending for Greater Western Ohio Conference titles and advancing to the regional are now program norms.
He began that journey as an assistant with Pittman when Darnell Hoskins landed his first head coaching position at Springfield. All three excelled collegiately, Hoskins and Pittman at the University of Dayton and Carson at Miami. When Hoskins and Pittman left for Thurgood Marshall, Carson took over.
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Ten years later it was a court reunion. A Beavercreek grad, Pittman is in his first season of hoping to match what Carson has done at Springfield. Beavercreek hasn’t fielded a winning team since the 2013-14 season.
“Beavercreek has been in the bottom of the GWOC so long,” said Pittman following the Beavers’ surprise 54-48 defeat of the Wildcats. “I see potential and it’s hard when somebody has been down so long and kicked so long to explain to them that you do belong. Our kids are finally figuring out they belong.”
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None more so than senior guard Yousef Saleh. He and promising 6-foot-7 sophomore Adam Duvall each had 17 points to lead the Beavers. Tied at 48-all after Springfield’s Larry Stephens converted two free throws, Beavercreek went on a game-ending 6-0 run to earn their most significant win for their new coach. That included Saleh’s steal and bucket and two more free throws with 9.5 seconds left.
Beavercreek, coming off an 8-15 season in Mark Hess’ fifth and final season, hadn’t beaten Springfield since December of 2016. Hess is in his first season as Troy’s coach.
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“This means a lot to get back on the track and make a statement,” said Saleh, a burly and effective back court presence. “To beat Springfield, that puts us back on the map.”
The Beavers (4-3) won their third straight game the hard way, weathering a 16-0 first-quarter run by the Wildcats after leading 11-2. By the third quarter Beavercreek had regained the lead by seven, trailed in the fourth and finished with that game-winning flurry.
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That was a reversal from prior setbacks. The Beavers lost by one point to Chaminade Julienne and at Wayne in overtime.
“From playing here, I have a brick in the foundation,” Pittman said. “We tell the kids, what’s your legacy? Are you going to add a brick and help us build a stronger foundation? Be part of the change. That’s how we’re approaching it.”
Carson is hoping for a different kind of change for Springfield (1-2). Most of Springfield’s players started on the record-setting football team (12-2) that advanced to a D-I state semifinal. That included leading scorer Jalan Minney (16 points). Josh Tolliver added 13 points.
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“We’re just trying to get back in (basketball) shape and figure it out,” Carson said. “We’ve got to remain the hunter in this. A lot of the kids are still in football mode and trying to figure out where they’re going to school. It’s a lot of pressure on them right now. We have to settle in and understand it’s basketball now.”
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