New Wildcats but same expectations for Springfield basketball

Springfield and Cleveland Heights capped the second day of the annual Flyin’ to the Hoop basketball extravaganza with a thriller folks in Clark County can hope is a sign of even greater things to come this season.

The Wildcats trailed by seven early in the fourth quarter but rallied to win 73-67 in overtime to improve to 10-0.

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The comeback came mostly on the back of RaHeim Moss. The senior scored 18 of his 22 points after halftime, including the go-ahead bucket and a breakaway layup to ice it in overtime.

Moss has emerged as the team’s top scoring option, raising his average from 6.1 points per game last season to 16.1 so far in his junior campaign.

“RaHeim was held back a little last year because of what we had in Danny Davis,” Springfield coach Isaiah Carson said, referring to the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer, who graduated last spring but was in attendance Sunday night.

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“(Moss) has been (averaging) 20 points a game the last five or six games, but it starts with defense, and that’s what he’s doin.”

Moss had three steals and played a role in the Springfield press that helped turn the game around after the Tigers took the lead.

The biggest theft of the night belonged to Larry Stephens, though. The sophomore guard picked off a pass at midcourt and then threw it up for Moss, who skied to slam it home.

That gave the Wildcats a 66-65 lead and brought down the house.

“We just want to put on a show for our audience,” said Stephens, who scored eight points. “Good team versus good team. Basketball is a game of runs. They had their run, but we never folded.”

The high wire act might have added to the degree of difficulty at a crucial juncture in the game, but he and Moss said they work on alley-oops in practice.

“I just work for my teammates and try to make a big play,” Moss said. "I was basically getting my team involved (in the first half) and I just executed, waited for my time to come. I knew my teammates could put in a bucket right there, but I just had to finish it.”

Tigers get ‘Mossed’

Springfield led by as many as nine early in the third quarter, but found themselves trailing 46-44 heading into the fourth.

The Tigers’ lead swelled to 52-45 on future Ohio State football player Tyreke Smith’s breakaway layup with 5:46 to go, but that was as good as it would get for the crew from northeast Ohio.

Moss scored five straight points to get the Wildcats within two.

He kept them close until the closing seconds, when Sam Towns’ free throw tied the game at 63 to send it to overtime.

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That let the Moss show continue. He fouled out Smith on a drive to the basket early in the extra session then put the Wildcats ahead for good with his slam from Stephens.

Leonard Taylor added 19 points and 13 rebounds for Springfield. He spent spent most of the night battling down low with Smith, who had 17 points and eight boards. The two highly-sought-after football prospects put on a show.

“That’s a senior that’s played in the Flyin’ to the Hoop before so we expected a big performance out of him,” Carson said. "He came in and did a great job for us.”

History Lesson

Carson found some extra meaning in this one for the Wildcats.

The Springfield native who starred at the old South High School in the early 2000s had some revenge for North (the alma mater of his father, Fred) on his mind with the Tigers trekking south.

“It’s real sweet for us because I can remember growing up Springfield North High School went to two state semifinal games, in ’91 and ’95, and won (the state championship) in ’97 and both losses were to Cleveland Heights. So that’s a sweet win for Springfield.”

That sentiment was consistent with one he talked about earlier in the week — the importance of pride in the program, not just for the school but the city.

“Springfield. We want to be the pride of Springfield,” Carson said after Springfield’s practice Wednesday. “When you think of Springfield, we want you to think of Springfield basketball. I think we’ve done a fine job so far. We just want to keep it going and keep raising the stakes.”

That’s a message his youngsters seem to be getting.

“It was a battle for Ohio, so we had to come out here and put on a show for the fans,” Moss said.

What’s next?

The Wildcats go into the second half of the season intent on writing another winning chapter in the school’s history.

They want to defend their GWOC National East championship and claim another district title.

Though Davis graduated, this squad has a shot at being better than last season’s team that advanced to the regional final.

Senior point guard Michael Wallace had 10 points but turned the ball over four times against Cleveland Heights. He was making his first season start of the season while playing his second game after recovering from a knee injury.

The Wildcats also still expect to get back guard JaJuan Rodgers, who has missed almost all of the season with a foot injury, but the absence of what was expected to be the starting backcourt has given others opportunities to flourish.

“Wallace will be up and down for a little bit only his second game back,” Carson said. “We’re still working him in, but he’s a senior. We believe in him. We know what he can do. We’ve seen him and we’re going to continue to trust in Mike and he’ll come along.”

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Next up is a return to Trent Arena, where the Wildcats will face Fairmont on Friday night before playing at Chaminade Julienne on Saturday.

Then it will be a Tuesday night trip to Belmont (Jan. 23) followed by a Wednesday night game at undefeated Wayne.

The latter was rescheduled from last Friday night because of the snowstorm that hit the area.

“We’ve got a gauntlet coming up,” Carson said. “We’ve got four games in eight days so we’ve just got to focus more than ever. We’re gonna be the hunter and not the hunted and just continue to try to play Springfield ball and try to get better.”

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