By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
The goal of any basketball team is to limit its own turnovers while forcing its opponent into as possible on the defensive end.
That is particularly important when playing a talented team like Lake Catholic, the No. 1 seed in the Division II sectional-district tournament at Lakeside.
So, when the Jefferson Falcons committed 25 turnovers, the Cougars made them pay, as they ran past the Falcons 87-48 at Falcon Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Mark Baniewicz was dominant for Lake Catholic, pouring in a game-high 30 points to go with 15 rebounds, six steals and three assists.
“Mark’s been our go-to guy all year long,” Cougars coach Mark Chicone said. “He’s one of our only two guys back from last year’s final four team. He’s a senior, a captain, the quarterback for the football team; we kind of expect that from him and he played like a man tonight.”
Baniewicz scored 20 of that 30 in the first half as Jefferson (5-13) seemed to be hanging around, trailing 39-23 despite turning the ball over 15 times.
But, Lake Catholic (12-5) steadily extended its lead, pushing it out to 23 at the end of the third before slamming the door on the Falcons by outscoring them 27-11 to close out the final 8 minutes.
“We gotta take care of the ball and we’ve got to rebound the ball,” Jefferson coach Jeremy Huber said. “We didn’t do that tonight. (Baniewicz) does a good job on the glass. He’s a good player, just a heady, hard-nosed kid. He made the difference for them.”
Lake Catholic had incredible balance throughout the game as all 11 players who entered the game scored.
Joining Baniewicz in double figures was Kareem Hendrix with 14 and Ben Meola with 12.
The Cougars also hit seven triples, four of which came in the final period.
“We’re getting closer to tournaments and you’re trying to fix little things, you’re trying to execute,” Chicone said. “You’re trying to maintain intensity and play hard. It’s a long drive down here and I’m happy with the way our guys came out and got it done, especially in the second half.”
Huber felt the Falcons’ turnovers were a combination of Lake Catholic’s pressure on defense, and his own team’s mental mistakes.
“It’s a little bit of both,” he said. “I think it’s more our decision making. We’re just not making the right decisions. Sometimes, it’s like I don’t even think they’re pressuring us, we’re just throwing the ball out of bounds. That’s where we gotta get better.”
Beings hampered by turnovers, the Falcons were able to shoot just 39 shots (hitting 18 of them), compared to the Cougars hoisting 76 (connecting on 34).
The difference between the first half and second for Chicone was that Jefferson answered Lake Catholic’s runs.
“I think we made a few more shots in the second half,” he said. “It seemed when we made a run in the first half, they made a run, then we made a run and they responded. In the second half they didn’t answer our run.”
The game gave Huber and his Falcons a glimpse into what the future could look like as the Falcons get a rematch with the Cougars if Jefferson beats Conneaut in a Division II sectional semifinal on Feb. 25.
“That’s a good basketball team over there, they’re the No. 1 seed in our district,” he said. “They’ve got a good tradition over there. This is a good game for us, we’ve got West Geauga (No. 2 in the Division II district) next Tuesday so it gives the kids an opportunity to see the best teams and see where they stand.”
Jefferson was led in scoring by freshman Jacob Adams with 15, followed by Brett Powers with 11.