by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Hudson -- It was a night of opposites for the Hudson boys basketball team in its rematch with Suburban League National Conference rival North Royalton Jan. 26 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
Four days after making just 7-of-19 free throws to close out a win over Nordonia (44-41), the Explorers finished off the Bears with 13 straight conversions at the charity stripe en route to a 46-34 victory.
There also was quite a difference in the beginning of the latest meeting with the Bears and the first one.
The last time these two teams hooked up, North Royalton earned a 66-56 win.
In that contest, the Bears came out on fire, making their first nine shots and jumping out to a 22-7 lead.
This time around, North Royalton missed nine of its first 10 shots.
"They [the Bears] were on fire last time," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said. "It was early in the season and we weren't that sound on defense yet.
Guard Zack Meder wasn't too particularly pleased with the outcome the last time his team met North Royalton.
"I guess we were kind of ticked off to start the game [Jan. 26] and it feels good to take it to them," Meder said.
That early-season loss haunted the Explorers in their chase for the first National Conference championship.
The football players only had a handful of practices.
"We are pretty business-like in the way we approach it," Brink said.
"Our guys kind of approach it as do your job, support your teammates and let's get out with the W.
"I think everybody knew that we were better than the game we played back in early December. I thought we played a much better game [Jan. 26]."
With the victory, Hudson improved to 11-4 overall and 6-3 in the conference. The Explorers were behind Brecksville-Broadview Heights (9-0) and Stow-Munroe Falls (7-2) in the conference standings.
The Bears improved to 8-7 overall and 4-5 in the conference.
North Royalton went scoreless for the first 4 minutes, 25 seconds with two turnovers and four missed shots in its first six touches.
"They [the Bears] were only were 2-of-13 on 3s," Brink said. "They had two 3s in the away game before we got out of the first 30 seconds. We wanted to make them work and shoot contested shots. Alex Beck did a great job for us defensively making sure [Mitch] Filippi was contested. Beck did a fantastic job contesting on the perimeter."
Filippi made just one of his six attempts from 3-point range after making six triples in the two teams' last meeting. Beck ended with 7 points and a team high 5 assists.
Both teams struggled on offense in the first quarter. As a result, Hudson's lead was just 4-2 after the first eight minutes.
By halftime, the Explorers built a 16-9 lead led by forward Dave O'Connor's six points. O'Connor ended with a career-high 9 points and forward Jackson Parker added 6 points as the Bears did their best to shut down Meder and post player Isaac MacGillis.
Despite being face-guarded the entire game, Meder finished with a team-high 13 points on just six shots.
MacGillis sat much of the game with foul trouble, but he contributed 6 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.
"Our bench was one of the keys to the victory," Brink said. "Spencer [McClure] had a great game off the bench. Ryan Martin did a nice job defensively when Isaac was in foul trouble.
"Parker had a great game. When you get 15 out of Parker and O'Connor, that helps offset what they were doing defensively on Meder."
Hudson struggled to crack the Bears' defense leading by just a 24-20 count heading into the final period.
But the Explorers finished 13-of-14 from the foul line in the final eight minutes to put it away.
"Our free throws down the stretch were money," Brink said. "It was almost the antithesis of the Nordonia game where we missed every free throw and let them back into the game.
"We made the clutch free throws and closed out the game early because we made free throws."
Meder, who made all six of his foul shots in the fourth quarter, said the turnaround at the free throw line was largely due to the team's work in practice.
"Coach put us into pressure situations in practice," he said. "He put an emphasis on being clutch from the free throw line down the stretch. It came through."
Hudson's junior varsity team (9-6, 4-5) earned a 46-33 win. Greg Mailey drained five 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 17 points. Alex Jackson added 12 points.
The Explorer freshmen improved to 14-0 with a 42-30 victory. Liam Brennan led Hudson with 12 points.
All three teams were scheduled to entertain National Conference rival Cuyahoga Falls Jan. 29. Results were not available at press time.
They are set to host East Cleveland Shaw Feb. 2.
Varsity tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.