By Doug Chapin
HOWLAND — The top-seeded Newton Falls High boys basketball team started things off in style Monday, opening the Division III sectional tournament at Howland with a 60-20 defeat of Girard.
Understand that “in style” for the 19-2 Tigers means a suffocating defense and an efficient offense. Falls held its All-American Conference Blue Division rival to 14 percent (6-for-43) shooting.
“We play the 2-3 zone very, very well, that’s our bread and butter,” Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. “We also can play match-up and man-to-man, but we expect to play good defense every time we go out.
“Our scoring average, we’re holding teams to about 47 points a game. Sometimes that statistic, defensive scoring average, can be misleading,” Sembach said. “But we’re playing up-tempo on offense and holding our opponents to that kind of average is a tribute to how well we play defense.”
The Tigers will play Mineral Ridge on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in a sectional final. Monday night’s other winner, Garrettsville Garfield, topped Mathews 50-46. The G-Men will face fourth-seeded Pymatuning Valley in the nightcap on Wednesday.
On offense, Newton Falls shot 46 percent (22-for-48), including a 5-for-12 (42 percent) performance on 3-pointers.
Six-foot-10 senior Marcus Fowler finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, and point guard Todd Medallis scored 11 points, had four assists and grabbed six rebounds.
Girard (1-20) has just one senior on its roster and plays six sophomores in its rotation. The Indians were led by junior forward Joe Augustine’s eight points and six rebounds.
As the number one seed in the tournament, Newton Falls could have taken a first-round bye.
“Most years I would take the bye because it gets you one game closer,” Sembach said. “This year, knowing how we’ve played throughout with time off compared to playing consecutively, and knowing how we’ve practiced, I felt much more comfortable playing sooner and playing two games in one week.
“This team, I think, plays better when we play twice a week.”
The Tigers have been eliminated each of the last two seasons by Pymatuning Valley and a rematch is possible next week in a district semifinal.
“Our main focus has been on winning the Blue Division. We really didn’t start talking much about the tournament until we had clinched,” Sembach said. “Obviously we want to win the district championship but you have to take it — and it’s an old clich — but you have to take it one game at a time.
“We’ll do our best against Mineral Ridge on Wednesday and go from there.”
Garfield (7-14) pulled out its win over Mathews despite shooting 28 percent (15-for-53) from the field. The G-Men had a big edge at the foul line, nailing 17 of 20 tries (85 percent).
After Garfield’s Scott Smith sank a jumper from the key with 40 seconds remaining to break a 46-46 tie, Mathews (12-9) had three shots to tie the game. Two free throws by Steve Zivader with two seconds remaining sealed the verdict.
The Mustangs got 16 points from junior point guard Collin Bowser and 13 from junior post Chris Morgan who also had 10 rebounds. Senior forward Seth Paddock grabbed seven rebounds.