Harding ignites in second half
By ERIC FORTUNE
At times Tuesday, the Warren Harding boys basketball team played like the team that most people in the area envisioned it would be.
The Raiders used a huge third quarter against Austintown Fitch to turn a four-point game at the half into an 89-60 victory in All-American Conference Red Tier play.
It was the Raiders’ seventh straight win after starting the season 4-6.
“The second-half scoring really was more about guarding, defending, rebounding, and getting ourselves into transition,” Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich said. “We have to get into that because that’s how we play best.
“It was kind of a tale of two halves.”
The Raiders (11-6, 9-1) seemingly flipped the switch as the Falcons (3-12, 2-7) looked to be matching the Raiders point for point in the first half, trailing 16-13 after the first quarter and 35-31 at the half.
“We did a great job in the first half,” Fitch coach Brian Beany said. “Our defense was good.
“We were communicating. We had a couple of breakdowns that they took advantage of. Offensively, we handled their pressure. We made the extra pass. We finished when we had to finish. It was exactly where we wanted it.”
Dylan Beany got the Falcons going early, scoring eight of his team-high 17 points in the opening quarter.
Vlajkovich thought the Raiders’ performance in the first half was awful.
“We had to guard,” Vlajkovich said. “We turn them over and commit to the glass. The funny thing is, we shoot the ball better the harder we guard.
“Our emphasis is not necessarily on making shots,” he said. “The reason we get open threes is because we are out in space.”
After the break, the Raiders were nearly flawless, outscoring the Falcons 29-9 on 11-of-16 shooting.
“The third quarter we were god awful,” Brian Beany said. “There is no other way to put it. We were awful because defensively we left wide open shooters.
“We didn’t do that in the first half. They were out there playing H-O-R-S-E at the three-point line. I could have made some of those shots.”
Lynn Bowden was the catalyst for Harding scoring 14 of his game high 33 points in the third quarter.
“I’m just contributing to the team,” Bowden said. “We’re going to be good. We just need to keep our heads on straight and we’ll be good.”
Mike Hughes added nine points in the quarter for the Raiders as he finished with 18 points.
“They’re our offensive go-to guys,” Vlajokich said. “Lynn is obviously a great athlete. He’s pretty good at basketball too.
“Mike’s a skill guy. Mike’s a shooter. He plays with good feel, good pace. Lynn’s Lynn. He’s got an alpha-dog mentality. When he’s locked in, we’re a lot better.”
The second half was a welcome sight for Vlajkovich. He felt his team kept the intensity up even with the game out of hand as Harding opened as much as a 36-point lead.
“Concentration is the number one goal with this team moving forward,” Vlajkovich said. “When we do it, we’re really good. When we don’t, we’re really average.”