STOW — A throng of defenders followed his every move.
As a result, Evan Bainbridge couldn’t find his rhythm in any way, shape or form.
But opposing coaches know better when it comes to Stow-Munroe Falls’ 6-foot-10 senior forward.
Particularly the one who watched it unfold Friday evening.
“That’s never going to happen again,” Brecksville-Broadview Heights head coach Steve Mehalik said. “He’ll probably have 50 on us the next time we play.”
The Bulldogs certainly hope so.
On this night, though, the Bees frustrated Stow’s ace in the hole like no one else.
The host Bulldogs’ Suburban League National Conference hopes took a huge hit after they suffered a grueling 56-53 defeat to Brecksville in overtime at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
With the loss, Stow, which saw its three-game winning streak end, fell to 5-6 overall and 4-3 in the National Conference. The Bees improved to 8-3 overall and 6-1 in the conference.
Brecksville and Twinsburg are tied atop the conference standings after their wins Friday.
The sweet-shooting Bainbridge, who plans to take his array of basketball talents to Kent State University later this year, had a career-low zero points, thanks to the Bees’, well, swarming defense.
Bainbridge had very few shot attempts mainly because of foul trouble. His difficult night ended after he picked up his fifth foul midway through the overtime period.
“They did a nice job defending Evan,” Bulldogs head coach Dave Close said. “They didn’t really help off him at all. They made life difficult for him. Any time he touched it in the post, they just ran somebody at him, or sometimes two.”
Six-foot-3 sophomore Joe Labas had the enormous responsibility of picking up Bainbridge’s scent wherever he traveled.
And when the ball went anywhere close to Bainbridge’s direction, a number of Bees darted out of their hive to make the talented stretch four as uncomfortable as possible.
As one particularly important statistic showed, Brecksville’s strategy worked beautifully.
“We have the utmost respect for Evan,” Mehalik said. “Our whole game plan was designed to try to take him out of the game. Evan getting in foul trouble helped us. If Evan doesn’t get into foul trouble, he’s not having a goose egg.”
Having a player like Bainbridge can give a team advantages that can’t be measured. However, the Bulldogs, who had picked up their play in recent weeks after a slow start, are certainly not a one-man gang.
And Bainbridge isn’t limited to just scoring the ball at will.
He managed to find open teammates whenever a sea of red surrounded him. Unfortunately, Stow’s supporting cast couldn’t deliver — even from close range.
“We knew they were going to double Evan every time he touched it,” Close said. “We told the other guys what to do when their guy doubled and then got him the ball. And we missed a lot of layups … a lot of layups … early. And then it kept going.”
Despite Brecksville’s dogged determination to torment Stow’s top offensive threat, the Bulldogs stayed in the game, thanks mainly to Jack Wilson.
The left-handed senior guard finished with a team-high and career-high 24 points. His no-hesitation 3-pointer from the top of the key tied the game at 45 with approximately a minute left in the fourth quarter.
“Jack is playing really well,” Close said.
The Bees, who led by as many as eight early in the third period, had a chance to win it in regulation, but Bainbridge blocked senior 6-4 guard Kenny Ganley’s shot from close range in the final seconds.
In the overtime period, Wilson knocked down his fourth and final three of the evening to tie the game at 50.
Nonetheless, Brecksville scored the next four points. The dagger for Stow took place when sophomore guard Jeremy Jonozzo got a steal with a minute left. The Bees had a 52-50 lead at the time.
The Bulldogs also missed some free throws in the extra session while Brecksville was just about automatic from the charity stripe.
The Bees drained their last four foul shots to put it away.
“I thought we worked hard,” Close said. “Brecksville played great defense. It was hard to get buckets (Friday). We kind of battled back to force the overtime. We just have to keep working.”
Brecksville couldn’t find many gaps to attack since Stow played a 2-3 zone.
So the Bees dialed long distance instead.
Brecksville knocked down 10 3-pointers, including three in a row early in the third quarter to take a 27-19 advantage.
Despite those conversions, Close didn’t fault his team’s defense. The other side of the ball, on the other hand, was the much larger concern.
“I thought our defense was not the problem,” Close said. “They hit a couple of threes in a row in the third quarter that gave them some space.
“Five of their six top players are all very good 3-point shooters. Our four perimeter people had to work really hard to get to their shooters.”
Three Bees reached double digits in scoring.
Junior guard JC Sejba led the way with 23 points. He drained five 3-pointers and also made 8 of 9 free throws.
Ganley added 13 points and despite having to focus more on the defensive end to bother a certain giant dressed in white, maroon and gold, Labas also had 13 points.
“Joe Labas is pretty good,” Mehalik said. “He is a tremendous athlete. He is going to be a special one.”
Senior guard Bryce Harvey and senior forward Brian Cartwright contributed 11 and eight points, respectively, for the Bulldogs, who may need some help if they want to get at least a piece of their third straight National Conference championship.
“We’re not in a position to lose too many,” Close said. “The league is such that anybody can bump anybody else off, too. But it doesn’t give us any wiggle room.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.