The Red Dragons wereterrific in the first half and in the game's last 5 minutes.
By CHUCK HOUSTEAU
CANFIELD -- Judging by the way Niles High played in the first half against Canfield, and more importantly in the last five minutes of the game, their No. 9 ranking in the Division II state poll is well deserved.
The Red Dragons visited one of the toughest gyms to play in the Metro Athletic Conference Tuesday and came away with a 63-47 victory.
Niles played flawlessly in the first half to open up a 33-18 halftime lead, and after Canfield made a late charge to get to within one point (41-40) in the fourth quarter, the Red Dragons regrouped, out-scoring the Cards 22-7.
Good show: "I thought the first half and the fourth quarter were about as good as basketball that we can play," said Niles coach Ron Price. "If we would have rebounded a bit better it was as good as we can play.
"This is such a tough place to play, and I knew [Canfield] wouldn't go away," Price said. "The only question would be how close they would get."
Canfield out-scored the Red Dragons, 16-8, in the third quarter, then scored the first six points of the fourth period on four free throws and a basket by senior Chase Booms.
The Cards had the momentum, but Niles' Tyler Spencer had other ideas. The senior guard sank back-to-back 3-pointers that took the life out of Canfield's rally.
"Those shots were huge," Price said. "Tyler's just been starting to play some good basketball for us and that was a big lift for us."
Canfield coach John Cullen said he was proud of the effort his team made in the second half to get back into the game.
"When you expend that much energy to come back, a shot like [Spencer's] tends to take the air out of your sails," Cullen said. "I've got to give our guys a lot of credit, it was about as ugly as it can possibly be in the first half with Niles just dicing us up."
Niles displayed all its weapons in the first quarter.
Strong start: Spencer, Dave Soda, Bill Sullivan and Tim Rupert all had two baskets in the period as Niles opened a 16-10 lead. All four players finished scoring in double figures. Rupert, who came off the bench, scored 16 points. Sullivan also scored 16 while Spencer had 15 and Soda 10.
Canfield kept within striking distance because of the strong play of sophomores Chad Baker (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Frank Turocy (13 points, eight rebounds).
Booms finished with 10 points.
Experience helps: After the Cardinals cut the Niles lead to one point, Price thought his team's experience took over.
"We've been in this situation before," Price said. "We've had some big leads and teams have come back on us. Whenever they have, our leadership and experience has bailed us out.
"Last year, we would have lost a game like this," he added.