STOW — Since the beginning of the millennium, the Cuyahoga Falls boys basketball team has gained a little bit of respectability against its longtime tormentor.
The Black Tigers upset Stow-Munroe Falls for the first time in quite a while during the late 2000s and had a stretch where they won four of five games against their main rivals a few years ago.
But those days seem like ancient history now.
That’s because the Bulldogs have regained their authority over their struggling archrivals.
Host Stow maintained its position atop of the Suburban League National Conference standings after cruising to a 69-45 victory over the Black Tigers.
The contest took place Tuesday evening at James G. Tyree Gymnasium. Due to a cancellation last month, the two teams are scheduled to hook up again soon at Falls’ Tom Jones Court.
The Bulldogs, who improved to 16-3 overall and 10-2 in the National Conference, are set to visit the Black Tigers Friday evening at 7:30 p.m.
If the first game is any indication, Falls may want to completely change its plan of attack.
That’s because Stow completely dominated from start to finish.
"We have to compete and play hard no matter who we play," longtime Bulldogs head coach Dave Close said. "You have to do whatever it takes to win."
Despite the slow-down tactics of the Black Tigers, the Bulldogs took advantage of some turnovers to race out to an 18-2 lead.
Falls, which was determined to keep the ball out of Stow’s hands, took just two shots in the first quarter.
In fact, it took nearly eight minutes for the Black Tigers to score their first points and almost 13 minutes to record their first field goal.
Falls’ strategy to play keepaway did throw Stow for a loop briefly.
The Bulldogs hoped to push the pace whenever they got their hands on the ball. Stow was able to get some transition buckets in the opening period.
But the Bulldogs’ lack of patience also hindered their play. Stow had six turnovers in the first eight minutes.
"We did disrupt them," Black Tigers head coach Kenny Johnson said. "They switched to a 1-2-2 zone and they haven’t played much of that all year."
Falls had some issues early, too.
It also committed six turnovers in the first quarter, thanks to the Bulldogs’ decision to trap the Black Tigers after the first couple of possessions.
"We were a little surprised," Close said. "We know teams want to slow it down against us, but we didn’t expect it to be on that level. The kids did a nice job of adjusting and creating turnovers."
When Falls started losing its grip on the ball, things turned against the Black Tigers in a flash.
And once that happened, it was almost impossible to recover.
"We took two shots we shouldn’t have taken," Johnson said. "We turned the ball over and that led them to get easy shots. We panicked."
The Stow players, on the other hand, could breathe easy and turn on the afterburners. As a result, the game was over in mere minutes.
The Bulldogs led 27-9 at halftime and were up by as many as 33 points in the fourth quarter.
Stow also had something to celebrate after the game.
Senior point guard Coryon Rice, a four-year starter, became just the fifth player in school history to score his 1,000th career point.
Rice, who finished with seven points to go along with a handful of assists, was awarded the game ball by previous Bulldog 1,000-point scorers Nathan Bower-Malone, Jake Steuer, Matt Beech and Kevin Kovach.
"Not a lot of guys do that," Close said. "It’s pretty prestigious. I called those four guys over the weekend to come to this game and they were happy to do that.
"There was a lot of Stow basketball out there (during the presentation). That’s something to be very proud of. It was good to honor Coryon. It’s a tremendous accomplishment."
Senior forward Mason McMurray led the Bulldogs with 14 points and senior guard Ethan Fretag finished with 11 points for Stow.
Junior guard Bryce Harvey and junior forward Brian Cartwright added eight and seven points, respectively, for the Bulldogs, who had 10 players score at least two points.
Junior guard James Moore led Falls with 12 points and senior guard Paris Blackshear contributed 11 points for the Black Tigers. Junior guard Noah Koehler finished with eight points for Falls (6-13, 2-10), which has lost nine straight games.
"We just have to play harder on the defensive end," Johnson said. "We have to beat a good team if we’re going to get another win. We know they’re (the Bulldogs) bigger. They have three really good players. We have to get better defensively and we have to play together."
While Close and his squad won’t hesitate at the chance to make the Black Tigers’ lives miserable, he acknowledged the difficulties of rebuilding a program that has been on the downside during the last few years.
"I have a ton of respect for Kenny and how hard he works at his craft," Close said. "I know he pours his heart and soul into his program and he wants to have success."
Both teams are scheduled to play in the Barberton Division I sectional-district tournament.
Stow received the top seed and earned a first-round bye. The Bulldogs are scheduled to entertain the Wadsworth-Akron Firestone winner in a sectional title game March 3 at 7 p.m.
Akron Archbishop Hoban, Uniontown Green and Walsh Jesuit received the second, third and fourth seeds, respectively.
Falls earned the 10th seed and is set to visit seventh-seeded Highland in a sectional semifinal contest Feb. 28 in Granger Township. Game time is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.