By ERIC FORTUNE
The basket on the north side of Paul V. Johnson Court was an obstacle for both the Western Reserve and Lowellville basketball teams Tuesday night.
The Blue Devils and Rockets combined to shoot 8-of-49 from that end of the court.
For the Rockets, luck had it that they didn’t have that basket in the second half to hinder them as they overcame a 20-point deficit in a 46-45 thriller.
“It seemed like that bucket at that end just had a lid on it,” Lowellville coach Matt Olson said. “No one was scoring on that end.”
That was apparent early on with the Rockets (11-2, 7-1 Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference) falling behind 15-3 after first-quarter shooting of1-of-17.
The Blue Devils (6-5, 5-3) limited the Rockets in second-chance opportunities, controlling the boards 12-4 with Jack Cappabianca causing matchup issues with six early points in the paint.
“They were taking the shots that we wanted them to,” Western Reserve coach Patsy Daltorio said. “We did a really nice defensively containing Matt [Hvisdak]. We were moving the ball, working it inside out. We were doing a nice job of sharing the basketball.”
Western Reserve continued to dictate the flow of the game in the second quarter, building a 20-point lead after a Cole DeZee bucket with a little more than a minute left in the half.
“We were getting beat off the dribble defensively,” Olson said. “They were getting layups so our goal at halftime was no layups, do not let them get to the rim, make them beat us from the outside, and it ended up working to our advantage.”
Cappabianca has 12 points as the Blue Devils led 32-12. But in the second half, he was held to just two points.
Once the teams changed baskets, the shooting woes for Western Reserve (3-of-11 in the quarter) began.
Nate Solak scored seven points in the third quarter as the Rockets reduced the lead to 12, but saw Hvisdak pick up his fourth foul.
“Matt is our quarterback of the team,” Olson said. “We had to be careful who he guarded.
“We put one of our other guys on their point guard to try and keep him from getting that fifth foul,” Olson said. “Our whole offense runs through Matt. Without him, we’re in trouble.”
After a pair of free throws from DeZee pushed the lead back out to 14, Solak came up big with a bucket sandwiched between two 3s to cut it to six with 5:41 remaining.
“Nate has been our leading scorer most games,” Olson said. “Once he gets going, our whole team gets going. After he hit one, we started running some plays to get him some open looks.”
Solak finished with a game-high 18 points.
Ryan Demsky responded with a 3 to put the Blue Devils back up at nine, but they wouldn’t score again.
“We let their shooters get loose a few times,” Daltorio said. “Matt was starting to penetrate and we weren’t converting at the other end.
“They made shots when they needed to. Unfortunately, like we talked about, be it stops defensively, at the line, or finishing — we didn’t execute and they did.”
Hvisdak, despite four fouls, was aggressive scoring eight points in the final quarter with his drive to the bucket with :47.2 left getting him to the line for a and one. It gave the Rockets their first lead of the game.