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After Central 'hit us like a truck,' Trojans able to gain some moral victories


SPRINGFIELD — Despite the final score, Sparta didn’t lose all the battles in its 80-42 Gold Division semifinal setback to Springfield Central at the Blue & Gold Tournament on Thursday.

It was refreshing from a Trojans perspective to see point guard Walker Loveland consistently beat his defender off the dribble and gain penetration into the paint.

“He can get by anyone, no one can stay in front of him,” forward Jake Lafferty said. “That’s why he's such a great person to play with.”

Loveland enjoyed the challenge Central’s extended perimeter defense presented him.

“In the first half, we were kind of dry. I had to penetrate to try to get us going,” Loveland said. “Central has phenomenal ball pressure. They do a fantastic job on defense all-around.  But I would much rather have a team like Central that plays up on me, rather than a team staying back.”

Sparta coach Deric Link was disappointed the Trojans weren’t able to take advantage of Loveland’s ability to penetrate.

“We didn't do a good enough job in the first half of moving for him,” Link said. “We’ve got to make sure we do a better job of moving to create opportunities for him. 

“I think we were taking our game plan with a little bit of overkill,” he added. “We knew we had to take good shots and if we were able to move the ball enough, we could get layups on the back side. But we held the ball too much and stood too much. We were trying to run the clock without playing basketball."

Sparta (10-2) was shell-shocked while putting up only 16 points in the first half. The Trojans were already behind by 31 at halftime.

“The only thing I could have asked for was that we could have come out and played our basketball in the first half,” Loveland said. “We kind of came out with a turtle on our backs. We rolled over and let them do whatever they wanted.”

“We knew this game heavily favored them. They're an amazing team with freak athletes,” Lafferty said. “This is the most athletic and best team we'll probably play the rest of the year. We knew we could compete with them. But they jumped out on us and hit us like a truck. We weren't ready for it.” 

The Trojans gave a much better account of themselves while outscoring Central 20-17 in the third quarter. But the Bulldogs were able to keep the turbo clock in effect for the fourth quarter.

“In the second half, we got accustomed to (Central’s play)," Lafferty said. “But it was a little late. If we could have played like ourselves, I think we could have given ourselves a better chance.”

Lafferty led Sparta with 13 points, while LeeAnthony Mayes scored 11 and Loveland added nine.

Link was encouraged enough by the Trojans’ second-half effort that he felt ultimately they will improve by going against Central.

“(Central) made us better today. Kudos to them. Thank you for that,” Link said. “It wasn't about winning. We challenged them at halftime and told them, 'You're going to lose this game, but how much pride do you have.’ We did a good job of battling and making them not quit playing. I think our kids got confident that they can compete. 

"We're not going to see anybody that is as athletic as that group is," he added. “We can't replicate that in practice. They make you think about the fact that they can take the ball away from you. Our passes had to be a little crisper and we had to meet passes a little more.”

Loveland related the Trojans’ psyche remains strong.

“We're still positive after this,” he said. “Everybody wants to win the Blue & Gold, but at the end of the day it's not about what you do now, but what you do at Districts. This will definitely help us in the long run.”