by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Stow -- These numbers don't lie: 21-9.
In the first Suburban League National Conference contest between the Hudson and Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball teams, the Bulldogs, thanks to its full-court pressure, forced 21 turnovers, while committing just nine miscues.
As a result, Stow earned a 68-59 victory over the Explorers Dec. 22 at Stow's James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
The Bulldogs scored 28 points on their possessions following Explorer miscues but needed some deft shooting down the stretch to hold off a late rally by Hudson.
The Explorers closed to 42-40 with 6 minutes, 51 seconds to play, but Stow caught fire, making 7-of-9 shots from the floor in a four-plus minute span to pull away. Stow improved to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference.
Hudson dropped to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the conference.
"We try to press a little bit," Bulldogs head coach Dave Close said. "We have done that virtually every game. We thought they [the Explorers] were too big [with 6-foot-9 Isaac MacGillis and 6-7 David O'Connor] to let them just come down the floor and bang it down our throats.
"We didn't want to let them get comfortable. We wanted to make the game between the foul lines.
"Our press wasn't pretty all the time, but they were hustling."
Stow's defense also focused on the Explorers' leading scorer, Zack Meder, who came into the game averaging 23.5 points per game.
"They basically had a game plan of double teaming and trapping Meder the entire night," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said. "We lost the game because we didn't take care of the ball. They [the Bulldogs] did a great job defensively. The turnovers were the difference in the game."
Stow's 21-9 spurt after the spread was just two points, early in the fourth, included some textbook passing, drives and dishes for open 3-pointers and seven points off of turnovers.
The Bulldogs went on an 11-2 run after MacGillis hit both ends of a one and one for the 42-40 score. Standout guards Nathan Bower-Malone and Coryon Rice took turns scoring in that spurt.
Bower-Malone, who had a game-high 26 points, got the first two off an inbounds pass from Rice, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half. Rice then hit a free throw and Bower-Malone added a driving score.
The Explorers temporarily slowed the charge as Mike Piekarski scored on a press breaking layup. Bower-Malone and Rice then hit back to back 3s a minute apart. Stow worked the ball to perfection for Rice's trey, using 45 seconds off the clock before striking (53-42 with 4:11 left).
By the 2:20 mark, the lead was 63-49 as the Bulldogs completed the 21-9 run to ice the win. Stow was 4-of-5 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
The contest featured the two best players from last season in the now defunct Northeast Ohio Conference River Division. Bower-Malone and Meder shared the Player of the Year award last year and put on a show in their first head-to-head meeting this season.
Meder had a team-high 20 points in defeat. The 5-9 senior guard hit three of Hudson's seven 3-pointers (7-19). Bower-Malone converted five triples as the Bulldogs hit 9-of-19 from outside the arc.
Piekarski, who came into the game with just three career varsity points, had 14 points for the Explorers.
"You have to give them [the Bulldogs] credit from a defensive standpoint," Brink said. "Meder got his twenty, but he had to work really hard. I thought Mikey Piekarski was a huge spark for us. He shot the ball well and generated things on the defensive end.
"That's what we need out of these guys. He gave us the best he could. We knew they were going to do their best to take away Meder and MacGillis [8 points], so we needed our other players to be confident that they are going to make their shots. And he did exactly what we talked about in the pregame."
With a decided height advantage, Hudson controlled the glass with a 34-20 edge on the boards. O'Connor led the way with 9 rebounds, while MacGillis added 6. Hudson corralled 13 offensive boards but was unable to score consistently in the paint, making 13-of-31 two-point shots.
Logan Huffman, a 6-4 center, led Stow with 5 rebounds, including 4 in the fourth quarter. Huffman, Logan Lindsay and Rice scored 11 points apiece.
The Bulldogs forced six turnovers in the first quarter with their press, running out to a 15-5 lead at the first stop.
With Meder hitting a pair of threes and reserve guard Spencer McClure adding a trey, the Explorers closed to 22-19 at the half.
Three turnovers on the first three possessions turned into six points for the Bulldogs to start the second half. A 3 by Rice had the advantage back to double digits at 31-19.
Back came the Explorers.
Triples by MacGillis and Piekarski helped close the gap to 40-36 after three. Hudson made it a one-possession game on the free throws from MacGillis before Stow closed out strong.
"We think Hudson is one of the upper-tier teams in the league," Close said. "They have one of the best one-two combination back with Meder and MacGillis, so this was a big game.
"To stumble and lose one that you didn't anticipate losing at Nordonia ... no disrespect to them, but we couldn't afford to fall two games behind and lose a game to Hudson at home. It was an important game in that respect, if winning a league championship is important."
The Explorers are scheduled to host the Hudson Holiday Tournament this week at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
Bainbridge Township Kenston is set to play Boardman Dec. 29 at 6 p.m. Hudson is scheduled to play Streetsboro in the following game at 7:30 p.m.
The tournament is scheduled to resume Dec. 30 at 6 p.m.