STOW — By the standards of Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball, a regular-season record at .500 constitutes a down year.
That said, there are plenty of programs — like Akron Kenmore-Garfield — that would love to have down years the way the Bulldogs do.
When the two programs met for a Division I playoff opener Wednesday at James G. Tyree Gymnasium, the game started with a 16-0 run for the Bulldogs.
After that, the Golden Rams showed they were a live underdog.
Kenmore-Garfield battled back to cut the lead to five in the third quarter, but in the end, Stow had too much firepower for the Golden Rams and won 74-57. The No. 5 seed in the Division I Barberton district, Stow (12-11) advanced to face Akron Ellet for a sectional final game Saturday at 7 p.m.
Stow coach Dave Close knew the contest wasn’t going to flow like water, although it did early for the Bulldogs.
“We’re tying to play our best no matter who we’re playing,” Close said. “I also believe there’s something about the first game of the playoffs, for the favored team, that makes it tough. It was easy for us early. Maybe a bit too easy.”
When the Rams came out with a five-guard offense, Close chose to play a 2-3 zone, which helped Stow to the big early lead.
Rams coach Murray Hooten III said the early deficit was exactly what his team didn’t need.
“We knew that Stow is a very good team,” Hooten said. “Once we got past that early run, we just had to take it one possession at a time. I give credit to my guy for being able to come back from a 20-point deficit.
Stow’s game-opening run was keyed by senior forward Evan Bainbridge, who put up two 3-pointers and a pair of dunks in the first quarter. The Kent State recruit finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds in the contest.
“Bainbridge is their man,” Hooten said. “We tried to make every touch uncomfortable for him, but he’s a great player.
Stow led 28-10 after one quarter and looked to be in for an easy night, as it was up as much as 32-12.
However, the Rams had other ideas, as the finished they got back into the contest with a 16-5 run. Senior DaShawn Felton and Brandon Evans keyed the run for K-G, as the Golden Rams beat the Bulldogs down the court on numerous occasions.
Close said the Bulldogs didn’t play poorly on offense during the comeback, but just couldn’t hit shots.
“We were getting good looks,” Close said. “We were just not hitting them. We missed a couple of layups and the got a couple baskets by leaking down the court against us. You hate to say don’t take the shot when they’re good looks.”
Jack Wilson hit a three-pointer for Stow just before halftime, but Stow knew they were in a ballgame, up 40-28 at the half.
The Golden Rams kept coming with Evans leading the charge. The 5-foot-5 senior led K-G with 23 points including five 3-pointers.
“Big heart. You can’t always measure a player by their physical stature,” Hooten said. “I appreciate what he and all our seniors have done for us.”
A three-pointer from Rams center Johnny Osby cut the lead to 47-42 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. Not long after, Stow switched back to it man-to-man defense and pushed the lead back out to 53-44 after three quarters.
K-G never let the Bulldogs get comfortable in the fourth quarter, but Stow’s free-throw shooting prowess allowed them to ice the game.
The Golden Rams moved into fouling mode late, but the Bulldogs went 9-of-10 from the line in the fourth quarter. Stow went 20-of-22 from the line for the game, compared to 5-of-9 for the Golden Rams.
Forward Brian Cartwright has 15 points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs, while Stow guards Jack Wilson and Cale Marconi added 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Felton had 10 points for Golden Rams before fouling out in the last-minute of the game.
Close said he knew his team was in for a battle with Ellet.
“They’ve got a couple of really good players and they play hard,” Close said. “It’s going to be a tough game for us.”
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC