Springfield edges Springboro in McCullough’s debut

Cutline: Springfield High School senior Josh Tolliver drives to the hoop against Springboro freshman Maxim Butler during their game on Friday night in Springfield. The Wildcats won 49-47. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED
Cutline: Springfield High School senior Josh Tolliver drives to the hoop against Springboro freshman Maxim Butler during their game on Friday night in Springfield. The Wildcats won 49-47. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED

SPRINGFIELD — After an already tumultuous preseason, the Springfield High School boys basketball team started its season with a victory — and that’s really all that matters to new coach Shawn McCullough.

Senior Josh Tolliver scored a team-high 15 points as Springfield beat Springboro 49-47 on Friday night in its season and Greater Western Ohio Conference opener.

“I’m always happy to get a win and that’s what I told the young men and my coaching staff,” McCullough said. “At the end of the day, if you win by one or win by 50, you got the win. I’m just really happy to get my first win under my belt.”

Junior Sam Feldman scored a career-high 28 points for the Panthers, who fell to 0-7 and 0-3 in the GWOC.

The Wildcats missed the first three weeks of the season as the high school transitioned to virtual operations due to a surge of COVID-19 cases in Springfield in November. The coaching staff was still holding tryouts the first week of December due to the football team’s deep postseason run.

“This is the first time some of these kids have ever played varsity and they’re trying to figure out how I think and I’m trying to figure out how they play,” McCullough said. “It’s going to take some time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

The late start also meant the Wildcats weren’t able to have any scrimmages, he said. Springfield’s high-pressure defense caused turnovers throughout , but the Wildcats weren’t able to translate those to points on the scoreboard. The Wildcats went 9-for-21 from the free throw line and missed several layups in transition.

“We had lots of rust,” McCullough said. “There’s things we haven’t even put in because I didn’t want to overwhelm them. It’s one of those things where you walk away with a win knowing you didn’t practice for three weeks and have only practiced for three weeks since you’ve been back.”

The Wildcats jumped out to a 9-2 first quarter lead, but the Panthers tied the score at 13 at the end of the quarter. Springboro jumped out to a 23-16 lead midway through the second quarter, but Wildcats sophomore Shawn Thigpen hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to one point.

Springfield took a 46-44 lead on a layup by sophomore Tyron Barnes midway through the fourth quarter. The Panthers tied the score on a bucket by Feldman, but Springfield took the lead on a layup by Tolliver with 1:17 remaining. Feldman was fouled with 21.5 seconds remaining and made one of two free throws to make it 48-47. Tolliver hit a free throw with11.1 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats a 49-47 lead.

Feldman’s heave from halfcourt at the buzzer fell short.

“We’ve played seven games, but I feel like this was our best effort game,” said Springboro first-year coach Brett Kostoff. “We talked as a team after Tuesday night about what all goes into winning -- effort, toughness, communication. I felt like tonight we were the tougher team. We gave more effort. I know it doesn’t always translate to a win, but I can sleep at night as a head coach if I can get my guys to do that.”

The Wildcats host rival Wayne (2-0, 1-0) on Tuesday night. The Warriors beat Beavercreek 63-53 on Friday night in their GWOC opener. McCullough experienced a similar rivalry with Dunbar during his tenure as head coach at Thurgood Marshall.

“It’s nothing I haven’t ever experienced,” he said. “It will be good for our guys. It will be good for the Springfield community. I’m excited.”

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