By John Bassetti
A 32-point second half showed that East has the foundation for a school that will enter the All-American Conference next season, but, a cold-shooting first half and fouls also showed that the Panthers need to sharpen their game to avoid a polar-bear plunge that led to Friday night’s 56-50 loss to Canfield.
“We had a lapse, defensively,” East coach Dennis Simmons said of East’s failure to capitalize after the Panthers trimmed a 16-point deficit (36-20) to two (52-50) with 21.7 seconds remaining. That’s when Andrew Midgley made the next four points on free throws to seal the win.
“In tight games, our lack of experience shows,” Simmons said after his team lost its fifth straight after a season-opening win over Boardman. “If we continue to learn how to play four quarters and how to finish out games, we’ll get better. Tonight, we played maybe a quarter-and-a-half.”
Meanwhile, Canfield (6-2) took advantage of East’s dissimilar halves by establishing steadier field-goal shooting (18 of 48 to East’s 20 of 55) before the Cardinals closed with a free-throw bonanza (18 of 30 to East’s 5 of 9).
Midgley had a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds, while Cole Pryjma and Mike Yourstowsky had 10 points each. The 6-foot-7 Midgley was 9 of 13 at the line. Jarret Vrabel swiped six of Canfield’s 23 rebounds.
Seniors Terrell McClain and Anthony Reid provided East’s 1-2 punch, offensively, with 18 and 15 points, respectively.
“As a team, we got going too late,” Reid said of falling behind at the half, 31-18. “If we didn’t struggle in the first half, we’d have probably won.”
Reid, a 6-1 shooting guard, said that slow starts and fouls have plagued the Panthers in four of the losses.
McClain played his first game of the season after tearing a patella tendon.
“Having McClain back helped a lot,” Simmons said. “He hasn’t played in over two months, so he was winded.”
East is still without Marquis Cotton, who continues rehabilitation from an ACL injury.
Last season, McClain averaged 15.5 points and six rebounds, while Cotton provided 10.4 points and 5.3 assists per game.
Canfield coach Todd Muckleroy wasn’t surprised that his Cardinals couldn’t sit comfortably on a lead they held from start to finish.
“We knew they were going to come at us pretty hard with a little more effort and sense of urgency; that’s why I’m proud of my guys for weathering the storm,” Muckleroy said. “I think a year ago or maybe two years ago, our guys probably would have collapsed under the pressure a little bit. Now, we stay composed when things start to unravel.”
He said free throws made the difference.
“We finally started making our free throws, they missed some shots down the stretch and we had to rebound those misses, so those were the keys,” he said. “I guess it was just being composed and getting to the right spots.”
While East had several players foul out, Canfield’s Vrabel, to his credit, managed a foul-free fourth period after the 6-5 senior forward incurred his third foul at 4:29 of the third quarter.
“He’s so aggressive and you can’t fault him for that, but he does have a tendency to pick up some touch fouls,” Muckleroy said. “We need him on the floor and I hope he realized that tonight. We need him to do damage, offensively.
“When he was in the game, we got some inside touches to him. We look for him to score, or at least convert from the free-throw line.”
East had nine blocked shots. McClain, Daryl Anderson and Dalane Brown each had three.