By DAN POMPILI
Fitch’s stingy zone defense kept Poland from driving inside for most of the first half.
So the Bulldogs simply abandoned their inside game. Good thing for them, they can shoot too.
Poland (6-0, 2-0) hit 10 3-pointers Friday night, including all five of its first-quarter shots, on their way to a 46-27 victory over the Falcons.
“We haven’t had to shoot the ball outside very much this season, because we’ve had such a strong inside game, just getting it in to ‘Wolfie’ [junior forward Jacob Wolfe], but we shot it really well tonight so I’m pleased,” said Poland coach Ken Grisdale.
Austintown (2-5, 0-3) opened the game with an aggressive 3-2 zone defense that kept the Bulldogs from penetrating. But Wolfe and senior guard Ryan Burke drained a pair of threes each and got a fifth from Kevin White. That loosened Austintown’s defense slightly and the Bulldogs were able to hit some inside shots in the second quarter.
Poland shot 9-of-11 in the first half, held Fitch to 4-of-14 shooting and carried a 24-13 lead into the locker room. As the second half began, it was just more of the same. Wolfe, Troy Bole and Steven Andrews all dropped 3-pointers, and Poland began to drive more easily as its perimeter game forced changes in the Falcons’ defense.
“They forced us into that with their 3-2 zone, but we made the shots. We were able to push them back into man coverage and that worked out really well for us,” Grisdale said.
Still, five of Poland’s eight second-half field goals were 3s. Wolfe finished the night with 18 points, including five 3s. They shot 17-of-45 on the night, and 25 of those attempts were from beyond the arc.
“They forced us outside with that zone, but our guys made good decisions and moved the ball around well,” Grisdale said.
“I thought our defense was pretty active, they just knocked down the shots,” Fitch coach Brian Beany said. “We knew we’d have a hard time matching up with them man-to-man. They’re just patient enough to wait for someone to break down and when that person does they just get in there.”
Fitch had good looks at the basket, but finished 10-of-33 on the night and was 6-of-11 from the stripe. Patrick Gerberry put up Austintown’s lone 3-pointer, his only points of the game.
“Our mindset [offensively] was to get the ball into our two post players and at times I thought we did that pretty effectively,” he said.
Though silent in the first half, junior guard Quincy Higgins found some success in the third quarter, scoring all of the Falcons’ points in that period and the first field goal of the fourth. Higgins led his team with nine points.