By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The Southeast boys basketball team had envisioned that the 2022-23 season would have more nights like Friday.
Then again, what team wouldn’t.
In their most complete game of the season, the Pirates roared to a memorable 96-69 Senior Night victory over the Rootstown Rovers.
“I can’t think of a better way for our seniors to go out,” Southeast head coach Mike Matisi said. “Especially this group. It has not been the season we wanted or the one we thought we could have. To see them this happy and all smiles is something I have not seen in the previous 21 games.”
Something else Matisi had never seen before, or anyone for that matter, was a performance like junior Garrett Sprutte’s.
Sprutte pulled down a new single-game school record 26 rebounds in the triumph. The previous record was 24 and set by Tim Exline during the 2017-18 season.
On Friday, Sprutte was the spark in a dominant first half that allowed the Pirates to take control of the game and never look back.
Southeast (6-15, 3-7 PTC) led 24-9 after the first quarter and 48-25 at halftime, using an effective three-quarter court 1-3-1 zone press to speed up the Rovers and force mistakes.
In the first half alone, Sprutte had 20 points and 19 rebounds. He finished with 24 points, the record-setting 26 rebounds, along with four assists and five steals.
“He just plays with tenacity,” Matisi said of Sprutte. “He is nonstop. He has had some games this year where he had 15, 16 or 17 rebounds and sometimes when a player is getting that many rebounds, it can get lost in the game. Not with Garrett. When he rebounds, it is apparent. He is just relentless.”
So was Southeast senior Michael Phillips, who led all scorers in the game with 26 points, including a number of athletic finishes at the rim. He finished the game 11-of-16 from the floor, with a pair of 3-pointers.
In total, the Pirates, who played aggressive and free, had five players in double-digits, with Brady Corley (12 points), Evan Riffle (11) and Ian Carter (10) joining Sprutte and Phillips.
“That was the best we have played offensively all year,” Matisi said. “I truly don’t think we have played selfishly at all this year, but tonight was maybe the most unselfish we have played all year. We made the extra pass every single time tonight. It was a different level of selflessness.”
Senior Carson Dunn led the Pirates with six assists, while Sprutte and senior Evan Riffle each had four assists and Phillips had three.
In the tone-setting first quarter, Southeast connected on 9-of-23 field goals and turned the ball over only twice. Rootstown managed to shoot only eight shots in the opening quarter, making three, and turned the ball over 11 times.
It was a recurring theme for the Rovers. They actually did not shoot poorly in the game (26-of-61 for 43 percent), but they were doomed by the turnovers that kept them from even getting to their shots more consistently.
“It was a game that snowballed on us,” Rootstown head coach Cody Calhoun said. “It seemed like no matter what we did defensively, (Southeast) changed up and did the opposite on us. If we protected the perimeter, they went inside for points. If we took away the inside, they hit from the perimeter.
“And they definitely made things difficult for us with their pressure defense, which led to transition points,” Calhoun added.
The Rovers (4-18, 0-10 PTC) were led in scoring by junior Brady Fillmore, who hit for 16 points (with four 3-pointers), while freshman Mason Lisi scored a career-high 15 points. He hit six of his 11 shots from the field and buried 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Junior Cameron Mahone scored all 10 of his points in the second half, while Ryan Piscitani and Kyle Weese each added nine points for the Rovers.
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