By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANTON -- Maybe it was impatience. Or miscommunication. Or nerves.
Or maybe there was no perfect explanation. Maybe Newton Falls just played a lousy first half.
"In the second half, we played Tiger basketball," Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. "But we missed some opportunities early and it cost us.
"It could have been a different story."
Instead, Sembach was left wondering what might have been.
West Salem Northwestern took a 29-22 halftime lead and held off the Tigers down the stretch for a 55-50 victory in a Division III regional semifinals at the Memorial Fieldhouse.
And it's no secret how they did it.
ABCs of victory
"We knew we had to limit turnovers, rebound and make free throws if we wanted to stick around," Northwestern coach Mark Alberts said. "That's the key in tournament basketball."
The Huskies did have fewer turnovers (10-9) and more rebounds (31-30), but the big difference was at the line. Northwestern made 15-of-18; Falls was just 11 of 22.
"Obviously in tournament basketball you have to make your free throws down the stretch," Sembach said. "They made them."
Northwestern never trailed, but the Tigers made them sweat the entire second half. Trailing 31-24 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Newton Falls went on an 11-2 run to tie the score at 33.
"I thought we took better shots," Sembach said. "We panicked early on and then we kind of settled down."
The Huskies reclaimed the lead, but Falls stayed close and got within one, 51-50 with 45 seconds remaining. But Northwestern junior Kyle Reed made two free throws, sophomore Isaiah Creasap added a bucket and the Tigers missed their final two shots to close the game.
"We could have won, we should have won," Sembach said. "But I couldn't be any more proud of this team."
Reed had 19 points and eight rebounds to lead Northwestern (21-3), which plays Bedford Chanel in Saturday's regional final. Creasap added 16 points -- including four 3-pointers.
"This team just refuses to lose," Alberts said. "You can't tell them they can't do something. We fought for respect in our area.
"Now we're just taking it one step at a time."
Senior guard Jeff Stanley -- one of four senior starters -- had 13 points and four assists for Newton Falls (21-3), which set a school record for victories and tied for the Trumbull Athletic Conference title with Lakeview.
Senior forward John Sekora had 12 points and junior Alex Cooper added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers, who shot 43 percent (18-of-42) from the field.
"This class of seniors was below .500 in junior high and they just dedicated themselves," Sembach said. "I think they can be considered one of the best teams in school history."
And Sembach thinks this team's success will help make the Tigers' program stronger.
"Oh, sure," he said. "This will only help the program. A lot of youngsters have been following this team and it's great to see how they've been treated by the varsity.
"I think it's going to help them get excited about the game of basketball."