By Doug Chapin
NEWTON FALLS — With two inexperienced teams on the floor, it’s not surprising a sophomore played a decisive role Tuesday night as the Newton Falls High boys basketball team defeated Liberty, 64-57.
Cody Dillon keyed a 19-8 third quarter for the Tigers (3-1) by scoring 16 of his game-high 28 points in the frame.
Falls turned a 31-26 halftime deficit into a 45-39 lead. The winners then made seven-of-nine free throw attempts in the final quarter to close out the victory.
The 6-foot-3 Dillon shot 10-of-15 from the field, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out five assists.
Senior forward Brian Sole, the only player on the floor for either team who was a starter last season, added 13 points for the Tigers. Senior post Stephen Page grabbed eight rebounds.
“Cody is a very good player and I just tell him to make plays,” Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. “If he’s open, shoot the ball, if he’s not open, drive and dish the ball.
“I thought he did a nice job of both, I don’t think he forced anything. I thought he did a nice job of making plays.
“We have enough guys who can put the ball in the basket, we don’t need anybody to force anything. But Cody and Sole are two guys who can make plays for us. As long as they don’t force anything we can get a lot of open looks because of those two guys.”
Liberty (0-4) was led by sophomore forward Jalen Mann with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Seniors DeAndrey Abron and Darrien White scored 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Though both teams lack varsity experience, there are degrees to that lack of experience. While Sembach talks about improving a particular part of his team’s game, first-year Liberty coach Marlon McGaughy talks more about the basics of the game.
“Tonight is a good step, but we still just don’t know how to play basketball,” McGaughy said. “That’s the hard part right now, we have a bunch of young kids who have no varsity experience.
“Our kids work hard, but our seniors, as far as basketball experience, are probably more like sophomores. It’s a process, we’re putting a new system in, so it’s going to take some time to get things going the way we want them to go. But all in all I’m happy with the kids.”
The teams were tied at 15 after one quarter and Newton Falls took a 19-15 lead in the first 30 seconds of the second. Liberty then outscored the Tigers 16-7 the rest of the quarter to forge its five-point halftime edge.
Dillon then went to work in the third quarter, scoring the home team’s first seven points. His three-point play at the 5:42 mark put the Tigers ahead for good, 33-32. A 3-point bomb at the third-quarter buzzer gave Falls a 45-39 lead.
The Tigers held off the Leopards in the final quarter, never leading by more than seven, but also never allowing Liberty closer than three points.
Sembach said his team needs improvement on defense, usually a strong suit for the Tigers.
“Our match-up zone wasn’t what it should be for us,” he said. “I think it still was a big factor in us winning the game, they were beating us up and down the floor and our match-up zone slowed them down a little bit in the second half. We still made enough errors in there that they got some open looks and cashed in and kept the game very close right to the very end.”
McGaughy said his team also has defensive issues.