“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.”