North Canton rolled to its 34th straight regular season win.
AUSTINTOWN -- It hasn't been a happy new year for the Fitch High boys basketball team.
Facing the daunting task of playing Canton McKinley and North Canton Hoover, two teams expected to be ranked in next week's AP poll, back-to-back wasn't how the Falcons wanted to start 2005.
Neither was losing both games by big margins.
For the second time this week, Fitch fell apart in the third quarter, this time being outscored 22-6 by North Canton, as the Falcons dropped a 56-39 decision to the undefeated Vikings.
North Canton's victory was its 34th straight regular season win and 53rd in the last 55 regular season contests.
Whether Fitch (6-3, 2-2 Federal League) was pondering the Vikings' streak or had something else on its mind, one thing was clear -- the Falcons weren't thinking about basketball.
Not ready mentally
"We weren't mentally ready to play at all," said Fitch coach Gary Conroy. "We were no where near the mindset we needed to be at to pull off an upset. We weren't in the right places and we didn't execute. It was a big mental breakdown."
North Canton's suffocating defense prevented Fitch from getting into any sort of a groove offensively. The Vikings' full-court pressure and ability to disrupt the passing lanes led to 18 Falcon turnovers.
After a first half where Fitch rallied from a 12-4 deficit to keep the game close, North Canton (9-0, 4-0) caught fire in the third quarter.
The Vikings began the stanza with a 13-2 run, turning a 25-16 halftime advantage into a 38-18 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"Hoover is traditionally a third quarter team," explained Conroy. "They came out and turned it up a notch. We couldn't match their intensity level and turned the ball over."
Despite giving up a lot of size inside to Fitch, the Vikings managed to scrap for seemingly every rebound and loose ball. When North Canton's shooters did miss, they got second chances.
That hustle was what Conroy thought was missing from his squad this week.
"Rebounding and defense don't have to do with skill, it's all heart," he said. "Hoover played with a lot of heart tonight.
"We managed to get in the game in the second quarter, but we couldn't get that intensity we needed. We were able to get the ball inside a little bit and they had trouble guarding us in the post at times. We just couldn't match their intensity."
North Canton led by as many as 25 points, but Fitch got within 15 with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter. But in the end, the Vikings' cushion was way too much to overcome.
"We were more aggressive in the third quarter and our press caused them some problems," said North Canton coach Randy Montgomery. "We were able to cause some turnovers and deny them easy baskets. We just need to put four quarters together if we want to get better."