By Steve WILAJ
If there was any question to what Ursuline High coach Keith Gunther was looking for in Friday night’s matchup with Boardman, the answer became apparent when he barked at Vito Penzo midway through the first quarter as his team led by 10.
“I need you to get ready to play tournament basketball,” Gunther yelled to the Fighting Irish forward. “Now go rebound the ball like you mean it.”
In what ultimately served as a tournament preparation game, Ursuline defeated the Spartans, 56-31, behind a strong first half.
“The biggest thing right now is prepping for the tournament by getting yourself better and fine-tuning everything,” Gunther said. “Defensively, we kept them under control. That was the only reason the game was the way it was.”
Using a barrage of 3-pointers, the Fighting Irish (13-6) jumped out to a 24-7 lead after the first eight minutes of play. And with a 16-8 second quarter advantage, they led 40-15 at the half.
“The first half we shot it well, but the second half I thought we were terrible offensively,” Gunther said. “We got stagnant, we got comfortable — and that’s one thing you can’t be at tournament time. If you get up on somebody you have to be able to push the gas pedal on them.”
But Ursuline couldn’t, as Boardman (2-17) outscored the Fighting Irish 9-6 in the third quarter and played the second half to a tie at 16.
“We challenged the guys at halftime because the first-half effort wasn’t as good as it could be,” Spartans coach Pat Birch said. “They responded to the challenge, but the problem still is we only scored 16 points. Just the last month or so, we’ve really struggled offensively.”
Greg Parella, who led Ursuline with 18 points, acknowledged the Fighting Irish’s second-half offensive struggles.
We had open shots and passed on some because we were trying to move the ball too much,” Parella said. “We know, overall, it has to be better.”
Dave Collins added 12 points for Ursuline, while Mark Hughes scored 11 as well.
“We never let them back in the game but didn’t put them away like I wish we would have,” Gunther said. “My college coach [current Akron coach Keith Dambrot] would tell me that when you’re up big, it’s hard to keep the kids playing the right way.
“I understand that. But if we’re going to be good in the tournament, we have to put teams away.”
Jon-Michael Dana was the high Boardman scorer with six points, while Ryan McKeown and Sebastian Heinonen each had five.
“We have to keep competing and fix some of the problems that we’ve been trying to fix all year — unforced turnovers and rebounding the basketball,” Birch said. “We do it well at times, but not consistent enough to get wins.”