STOW — Call him stubborn.
It wouldn’t be the least bit unfair to label him as a stickler, either.
But Dave Close certainly isn’t an old dog who can’t learn new tricks.
For more than 30 years, the Stow-Munroe Falls head boys basketball coach was adamant about executing a man-to-man defense.
That changed during the latter part of last season. This winter, Close once again has abandoned his trusted nesting place to continue exploring options as a mad scientist.
The longtime coach has a very legitimate reason for embracing these outside-the-box tactics that were once forbidden on Graham Road.
That reason is a 6-foot-10 stretch four who plans to play Division I college ball.
"In the zone, we got Evan in there," Close said.
Close is referring to Evan Bainbridge, the Bulldogs’ leading man who recently signed to continue his academic and basketball careers at Kent State University.
Due to the efforts of the senior forward and his hard-nosed and well-disciplined teammates, Stow got right back in the Suburban League National Conference race on Tuesday.
The host Bulldogs improved to 9-8 overall and 7-3 in the conference with a 38-27 victory over Twinsburg at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
Bainbridge scored 14 points, but putting the ball in the basket definitely played second fiddle on this night.
Thanks mainly to the lanky Bainbridge, the Tigers seemed just about helpless when it came to finding holes in Stow’s ever-evolving 2-3 zone.
Twinsburg’s star, senior guard Ralph Campbell, finished with just four points. He had very few opportunities to attack and found himself in foul trouble throughout the evening.
And, of course, Campbell had to deal with Bainbridge, who gleefully forced him to think twice if he wanted to get near the unassuming giant’s lair.
"He is primarily an inside player," Close said of Campbell. "Evan does a good job of taking away guys inside. He blocks a lot of shots. He has a lot of wingspan."
Stow’s skyscraper can obliterate just about any opponent’s offensive game plan.
However, the Bulldogs’ zone doesn’t function quite as effectively if the rest of Stow’s dutiful soldiers don’t scramble nonstop to cause massive disorder.
Senior guards Bryce Harvey, Jack Wilson and Jackson Carlson, senior forward Brian Cartwright and sophomore guard Cale Marconi have mastered the complicated intricacies of the early 20th-century defense that stresses synchronicity.
As a result of their ability to rotate quickly from side to side and snatch a few steals, the Bulldogs have discovered quite a potent wrinkle that could make them very dangerous the rest of the way.
"The other guys did a nice job, too," Close said. "When he (Campbell) passed it, they dove in and got some steals."
The Bulldogs certainly did their part to neutralize the more athletic and quicker Tigers.
But Twinsburg also displayed a wide range of expertise when it came to thwarting its opponent.
Utilizing man-to-man schemes, the Tigers forced Stow to commit 19 turnovers, including 11 in the first half.
"Twinsburg played very good defense, too," Close said. "They were very aggressive. They put a lot of pressure on Evan every time he got the ball."
The Bulldogs handled the ball with more care in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter.
They also utilized some pick-and-roll action that led to layups and eventually, a sizable enough advantage to pull away.
"They were switching a lot of screens," Close said. "We went to a particular offense that got us some really good looks and that’s where we got our space. The kids made some very good decisions to get some easier shots."
These good decisions can’t be made without enlightening conversations. The Bulldogs, who once made as much noise as monks in a monastery, are barking a lot more these days.
This long-awaited hubbub of basketball lingo couldn’t be more enchanting music to Close’s ears.
"There’s a lot of communication out there," Close said. "The kids did a nice job of communicating ball screens and all kinds of things like that. We’re doing that much better."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.