By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
In a game matching rivals Conneaut and Jefferson, two teams who like to play physical and, at times, struggle to put the ball in the basket, something had to give at Garcia Gymnasium.
The Spartans found a hot hand off the bench in the form of Dylan Campbell, who scored a game-high 18 points, as Conneaut used a huge rebounding edge to take advantage of a struggling Jefferson offense to win, 61-43.
“I told them, these kids have fought through a lot, there’s been some adversity this season and they’ve fought through it all,” Spartans coach Tim Tallbacka said. “We’ve played a real tough schedule. It’s nice to see them get a quality win against Jefferson.”
Campbell scored nine in the second period to help turn an 11-8 first-quarter Conneaut (4-9) lead into a 31-21 lead at the half.
Campbell and Christian Williams (3 points) each hit important treys to lead the second-period run, but it was the Falcons inability to convert at the foul line that proved costly.
Jefferson (4-11) went to the line 25 times in the first half, but converted just 13 attempts.
That, combined with a 34-24 edge in rebounding in favor of Conneaut were key.
“They beat us inside,” Falcons coach Jeremy Huber said. “Coach Tallbacka had the boys ready and we didn’t do a good job inside. There were too many passes on the weak side, we were aware of it, we just didn’t react to it.”
Conneaut post players Nick Blood (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Bud Ritari (8 points, 6 boards) seemed to wear down the Jefferson frontline which is still without starting center David Chase.
The play of Blood and Ritari, in addition to the scoring of Campbell off the bench, made up for the lack of scoring from Williams, the Spartans top scorer at 14.8 points per game.
For Tallbacka, the lack of scoring from Williams wasn’t an issue.
“He did an outstanding job, he had seven assists, a couple steals so I have no problem whatsoever with his performance tonight,” he said. “We need to get good guard play and have balance. We talked about that the last couple weeks and we got it tonight.
“Christian was unselfish, he found Bud and Nick early on. It’s good to see the win means more to our seniors than their own stats.”
Trailing by 12 entering the fourth period, the Falcons still were within striking distance.
Lucas Hitchcock (8 points) opened the quarter with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 44-35.
But that was as close as Jefferson would get as Campbell answered with a 3 of his own and the Spartans went on an 8-0 run and wouldn’t allow another Falcon basket until Justin Butler hit a field goal with 3:45 remaining in the game.
“I mean you’re always hoping (for a run), always fighting, but...” Huber said about Hitchcock’s trifecta potentially starting a run. “We just had some breakdowns defensively where we weren’t communicating on the floor. They got a breakaway layup down the floor and that’s just unacceptable.
“We’ve just got to improve.”
For Tallbacka, it was important to see his team start to come together late in the season.
“I think we were consistent on defense for four quarters,” he said. “You look at them scoring 8, 13, 11 and 11 (points in a quarter). They only had four field goals in the first half because we fouled and fouled them. That’s the one drawback to physical play, you’re gonna get called for fouls.
“But, we saw them be consistent on defense and that’s important.”