MACEDONIA — Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball coach Dave Close has been on the sidelines for the Bulldogs for 32 years — longer than Nordonia coach Dominique Sanders has been on this earth.
Thus, the dean of Summit County basketball coaches could say to the Knights’ new boss "I was running practices when you were still in diapers, pal!"
After his Bulldogs made the trip to Nordonia Friday, however, the veteran coach was complimentary of the new Knights boss.
"He’s doing a tremendous job here," Close said of Sanders. "He’s got them playing with a lot of discipline. They play great defense and they have a lot of good motion on offense."
The Knights were able to grind out their fourth straight victory Friday, pulling out a gritty 48-44 win over the Bulldogs at home.
Nordonia, which was coming off a 59-56 overtime win over Medina Highland at home Tuesday, improved to 4-3, 3-1 in the Suburban League National Conference. Stow dropped to 2-5, 2-2 in the National Conference.
Sanders noted the Knights remain a work in progress, but that progress is being made.
"We are on these guys constantly. We are not letting them breathe," Sanders said. "They are getting better every day at practice. It’s fun to watch a team that plays for each other. They do not want to let their brothers down.
"We struggled in a couple of areas tonight, like getting the ball inbounds late," Sanders added. "The thing was we adjusted a practice where we don’t want them looking to us in a situation like that. We want them to take ownership of those situations and they’re starting to."
Close said his young team is working through its development stage as well.
"We hurt ourselves early on tonight. We talked to guys about the little things that hurt us," Close said. "We went 9-of-19 at the [free-throw line]. They got a lot of free-throw rebounds, which led to easy points.
"We’ve got a lot of work to do," he added. "Our guys need to get better. They need to start taking ownership."
While Stow struggled at the line, Nordonia didn’t help its cause, as it went just 7-of-17 on free throws.
Stow opened the game with a 4-0 lead, but Nordonia closed the quarter on a 12-2 run, keyed by some nice passes and a 3-pointer from sophomore Jon Henderson.
Henderson was the lone Knight in double figurers with 11 points, though nine Nordonia players scored in the win. Sanders noted Henderson’s emergence at guard has been a big part of Nordonia’s recent surge.
"He a competitor," Sanders said. "I told him tonight, I felt like he was due for a big game and he stepped up. As a sophomore, it’s rare to have someone want the ball in big situations, but that’s him."
Stow was able to cut into the Knights’ leading in the second quarter, thanks in part to parade of free-throw attempts. However, the Bulldogs went just 6-of-13 from the line in the quarter and never were able to take the lead.
A 3-pointer from Stow’s Jack Costa cut the lead to 22-17 at the half. Costa led all scorers with 13 points.
Stow kept coming in the third quarter, anchored by the big body of center Van Skyjka. Shyjka had six of his 10 points in the third quarter, as the Bulldogs cut the lead to one point twice in the third quarter.
"Van is hard to defend," Close said. "We need what he brings to this team. He’s still trying to get his basketball legs under him."
Nordonia reserve forward Logan Jankowski hit a layup before the third-quarter buzzer, making it 35-31 after three.
The Knights carried the momentum into the fourth quarter, starting on a 5-0 run, which saw Hederson complete an and-one situation to give Nordonia its biggest lead at 40-31 with six minutes left.
However, Stow wouldn’t go away, as back-to-back 3-pointers from Costa and Cale Marconi cut the deficit to 40-37. Marconi finished with 11 points.
However, junior Joel Jones was a hit down the stretch for Nordonia, as he hit a pair of layups and hit a couple of key blocks for the Knights.
Henderson nailed a pair of free throws in with under 10 seconds to ice the game for the Knights, while Cossta hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the game its final margin.
Forward Robert Watson drew kudos from Sandersm as he finished with nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks while drawing the defensive assignment on Shyjka for most of the night.
"He brought it tonight," Sanders said. "We talked about him playing physical and he was right there."
Both teams are off until after Christmas. Nordonia will host Massillon Perry next Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Stow will play Youngstown Ursuline next Saturday at 5:45 p.m. as part of the Chick-Fil-A Classic at Massillon Jackson.