By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
In explaining the Madison boy’s loss at North, there was the matter of that second quarter...
The host Rangers, who returned to the style of play they had been using in recent years, put up 33 points on the board during those eight minutes, and held off a Blue Streak charge for a 70-56 win on Friday.
Anton Vrebac led North’s effort with 19 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. Paul Lang added 16 points and four assists.
Actually, when you get right down to it, the critical span lasted less than 3.5 minutes. From just after the start of the period until the 4:36 mark of the first half, North put up 20 unanswered points to turn a 15-12 deficit into a 32-15 advantage.
“After the Lakeside game (which we won 64-60 on Tuesday), I said like, ‘We weren’t playing very hard,’” North coach Joe Montanaro said. “The last couple years, we’ve just been picking up people fullcourt and all out. And I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go back to that.’ It’s more fun for the kids, and I started playing more of the kids (and getting) some of the younger guys in there.”
It’s especially more fun for the players when they play the way they did during that critical stretch. Madison (3-4, 2-3 in the Premier Athletic Conference) had bounced back from an early 8-0 run and 10-2 deficit, and grabbed the aforementioned 15-12 lead on the wings of its own 10-0 stretch.
But then it was Katy bar the door, as the Rangers (4-2, 4-1) got their running game into full gear with the help of forced turnovers. Five players combined to score the 20 points while Madison star forward Stephon Ortiz (11 points, 10 rebounds) picked up his third foul. Then after the Streaks answered with seven-straight, North came right back with eight, with two baskets following thefts.
At that point, the Rangers held their biggest lead at 40-22, and they quickly matched it twice, including a 45-27 halftime count. They forced 11 turnovers in the quarter.
“(The second quarter) was horrible,” Madison coach Pat Moran said. “It wasn’t anything we didn’t expect from them. We just had a couple guys not get into the right spots against their pressure.
“We kind of panicked a little bit. That quarter right there is the difference in the game, because in the other three quarters, we beat them. But (in) basketball, you don’t win games based on what you do each quarter.”
But Madison regrouped in the locker room, and came out looking like a very different team. It outscored North 18-7 in the third period to cut it to 52-45, then sliced it to that seven-point margin three more times. But with the score 62-54, the Rangers went on an 8-1 spurt to push to 70-55.
“They’ve got the best coach in the league,” Montanaro said. “Pat is wonderful. What he does is unbelievable. I told the guys, ‘Hey, they’re going to come back.’ They made adjustments. You could tell.”
“We brought them in at halftime,” Moran said. “In the second half, I don’t think we struggled much with the pressure; I thought we did a pretty good job of handling it.
“We told them at halftime — we challenged them — win, lose or draw, we’re not going out like this. And from that standpoint, I’m proud of my kids — to be down by 18 and to cut it to seven, and to even have some possessions to cut it down to even a smaller amount.”
Brett Monty led Madison with 17 points and added four steals. John Dahlhausen had seven rebounds for the Blue Streaks.
Ben Josipovic had 10 points, four assists and four steals, Joe Caspio 10 points and Juan Asenjo eight points for North. The latter two combined for an 18-point, eight-rebound night for the center position, marking an improvement as of late.
“Coach (Mike) Samber’s been working with our (centers),” Montanaro said. “They work really hard. You could see that tonight. Joe came alive; we’ve been waiting for that.”
“They’re so long,” Moran said of the Rangers. “You can’t really simulate that in practice when you’re talking about 6-4 kids with long bodies and stuff. We’re not exactly matching them inch-for-inch, that’s for sure.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.