By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
HUNTING VALLEY —
True, a team always wants to win. But sometimes a rematch can be used as a sort of measuring device that indicates progress. In that regard, Saturday night’s game at University School would show that despite going down to a 68-59 defeat, the Lakeside boys have taken plenty of positive strides.
The Dragons (3-8, 2-5 in the Premier Athletic Conference), 72-47 victims when the teams first met on Dec. 7, invaded the Preppers’ home court and made things very difficult for the hosts.
“They beat us by 25 (last time); today they beat us by nine,” Lakeside coach Mark Taylor said. “I think it showed some improvement. We’ve really made a lot of improvements this year. We just came up short.”
“That’s a team that’s got a lot of pride,” US coach Terry Lipford said. “We didn’t expect them to come in here and lay down and think about what happened last time, and we weren’t stuck on it either.
“They’re a very athletic team, and they use some of that quickness to make plays.”
After falling behind 27-21 via an 8-0 run in the second quarter, the Dragons were never able to catch up, although they shadowed US for pretty much the rest of the way. The final score was the Preppers’ largest advantage of the night, after Lakeside had crept within one at 43-42 on Marcell Ballenger’s 3-pointer late in the third period.
The Preppers (8-0, 3-0) responded to that triple with two baskets by Kyle Scadlock (10 points) to make it 47-42 at the end of the period. The Dragons briefly closed within three at 47-44 on a Ballenger bucket before US twice stretched the lead to eight.
With the score 57-49, Emonte Parks (14 points, 5 assists, 5 steals) hit two free throws and then fed Nallenger (all 9 points in the second half) for a layup, and then after US split a pair of free throws, Sayvaughn Morgan converted a drive to make it 58-55 under the four-minute mark. But Xavier Bonner (11 points, 8 rebounds) followed in a shot and worked a layup, making it 62-55.
A steal and layup by Kyle Downs (11 points) sliced it to 62-57 with less than three minutes left, but Scadlock split two foul shots. Then three of four Prepper free throws at the 1:48 mark, partially because of a technical foul, pushed it out to 66-57.
US’s Matt Gibbons led everyone with 21 points and added 10 boards to tie teammate Sam Bentz for then game high in that department.
“We couldn’t get a stop when we needed to,” Taylor said. “They’re a big, strong team. They’ve got a lot of size. I thought (Gibbons) is a heck of a ballplayer, who can handle the ball, post up, can make the 3-point shots. They can run their offense through him.”
The Dragons converted four more baskets (24-20) than US, but the Preppers went to the line far more, as they sank 25-of-38 free throws as compared to six-of-14 for their opponents. Curtis Black (4 assists) was 10-of-12 from the line for all his points.
“I didn’t agree with all the calls,” Taylor said. “But that’s the way it goes sometimes. I thought our guys played through it, and I thought we kept our composure. We didn’t get all the breaks, but they kept competing. I love this team’s fight. I love their heart. And they left it out on the court, and that’s all you can ask.”
Nick Meola led Lakeside with eight rebounds, but the Preppers led on the glass by a 45-32 count.
Lakeside’s Tristan Bradley was unavailable to play after injuring his head in Tuesday’s game at Riverside. The Preppers’ point guard, De’Andre Austin, also could not play.
“We threw the kitchen sink at ’em,” Taylor said. “We threw every press we could come up with, traps — they don’t turn it over. They’re patient and disciplined.
“They’re undefeated in the conference for a reason. I thought we went toe-to-toe with Goliath tonight.”
“I believe that our guys showed a lot of poise,” Lipford, who mentioned Black and Gibbons specifically, said. “Especially for us to not be playing with our primary ballhandler — our point guard. But our seniors showed a lot of poise at the end of the basketball game. We need that from them.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.