NORTH ROYALTON — The Hudson boys basketball team struggled mightily against Suburban League National Conference rivals last season.
The Explorers have made major strides this winter.
And they just knocked off one of the potential conference favorites — on the road.
Hudson earned a convincing 68-54 victory over North Royalton Friday. The Explorers got 10 straight points from Aaron Martin early in the fourth quarter to take a double-digit lead.
Hudson didn’t look back.
With the win, the Explorers improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 n the National Conference. The Bears dropped to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the conference.
"This was a big win for us," said Hudson senior guard William Wallace, who had a game-high 22 points. It has been a big turnaround for us.
"We were really young last year, but we worked hard in the off-season and are really excited about this year. We can beat anyone in the league. We’re ready."
The Explorers started out hot, but North Royalton was hotter in the first half. After intermission, Hudson got even hotter and turned up the defensive intensity as well to pull away.
The Explorers made six of its first nine shots, but they trailed 20-18 after one quarter of play.
That’s because the Bears made eight of their first 11 shots. North Royalton continued its hot shooting, making 13 of 18 shots during one stretch.
But Hudson cranked up its offense to close the first half with an 8-2 run to tie the game at 35.
Wallace and Damani Ganaway-Glave each had three-pointers during the spurt.
"The fact that they shot the ball so well early and we were able to hang tough and keep the game close was a key," Explorers head coach Jeff Brink said. "That was a pretty good second half. We stepped it up on the defensive end."
Hudson outscored the Bears 33-19 in the second half and limited them to 6-of-19 shooting.
"We really cranked up the intensity defensively," said Martin, who finished with 20 points. "In the locker room (at halftime), Brink got into us and told us what we needed to do to win.
"We really came back defensively and that’s what changed the game for us. Our defense really sparked our offense."
Martin had a stellar shooting performance Friday. He made seven of his 11 shots from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, Wallace had possibly the best game of his career. The senior was 6 of 11 from the floor and 8 and 9 from the foul line. He had four steals, all in the second half, a team-high six assists and five rebounds.
"William was awesome," Brink said. "He played by far his best game of the year. He shot the ball well, but the play he made, which will go unnoticed on a stat sheet, was diving for the loose ball and getting the timeout after we made a sloppy play. He put his body on the line at a pivotal moment and saved us a possession."
Wallace’s recovery of the loose ball led to him hitting both ends of a one and one a few seconds later. He was 5 of 6 from the line in the final 68 seconds to ice the win.
"After the loss to Brecksville (63-47), we have been talking about how we have to pick up the intensity on defense," Wallace said. "At halftime, it was a tie game so it was going to come down to who played better defense. We needed more energy and we turned it up a notch."
What made the win most impressive for the Explorers was the fact they were missing four key players due to injuries.
"I walked out for the warm-up and half my team is sitting in street clothes," Brink said. "But I have said before … adversity is opportunity in disguise. Adversity for one is opportunity for others.
"For the Peyton Koschos, the Brad McCormicks, the Anthony Chokeneas, it’s more minutes. Their crunch game time is going up. Our bench was strong. Choke gave us great minutes off the bench. Brad gave us great minutes. Peyton was thrown into the starting lineup. We got contributions from everybody that played."
Because of the injuries, junior post player Jack Burdett played all 32 minutes. He finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Omar Abuhamdeh led North Royalton with 21 points.
Hudson’s junior varsity team lost 54-35. Tyler Miller led the effort with eight points. The freshmen earned a 46-41 win.