MACEDONIA — In some ways, the boys basketball programs at Nordonia and Cuyahoga Falls are in the same position.
Both programs are under first-year coaches this winter and had to deal with a lack of varsity experience in the first month of the season.
However, while Nordonia has shown progress in December, even at times in defeat, Falls has struggled to find its footing, particularly in the Suburban League National Conference.
On Tuesday night in at Hugh Griffith Gymnasium, however, it was the Black Tigers who looked locked in, while Nordonia looked lost at times.
Hot shooting allowed the Black Tigers to lead by as many as 20 points in the third quarter. Falls weathered a late comeback by Nordonia to score a 58-53 win.
Falls improved to 2-6, 1-5 in the Suburban League National Conference, while Nordonia fell to 4-6, 3-3 in the National Conference.
Falls coach Todd Taylor noted it was Falls’ best performance of the season.
"The kids came out ready and they did exactly what we asked them to do," Taylor said. "You play the way you practice. What a coincidence it was that yesterday was our best practice of the season.
"It carried over tonight," he added. "I think we were ready to play with them from tip to the end."
Meanwhile, after his team looked good in an overtime loss to Brecksville last time out, Nordonia coach Dominique Sanders was at a loss to explain a lackluster performance from the Knights.
"That’s preparation. You have to prepare for every team like they’re the best," Sanders said. "This is the one team that I have not named a captain for. Until we get some leadership, we’re not going to be able to be consistent."
Nordonia took the early lead, but had problems dealing with Falls’ 2-3 zone all night.
The Knights’ worst habits from early in the season returned, as Nordonia went just 7-of-14 from the free-throw line and missed multiple layups.
"That’s something we have to look at as coaches," Sanders said. "We’ve got to be able to finish. I’ve told they guys we’ve got to look to be aggressive on offense. Anyone who can’t be that way, maybe it’s time to sit."
With the score tied at 12-12 after one period, Nordonia opened the quarter with a layup from forward Robert Watson.
That’s when Falls caught fire.
A series of running layups by junior guard Trinny Henderson and junior Brennand Guerin helped Falls open a 15-0 run.
Henderson just missed a season-high with 19 points, but he was the engine of Falls’ offense all night.
"He had a great floor game," Taylor said. "He was able to work the ball well tonight."
"Henderson had a good game, but a lot of what he got was uncontested layups," Sanders said. "We didn’t step up to the challenge of guarding him at all."
Guerin had a career-high 16 points off the bench, while guard Joey Sondles added 10 points for the Black Tigers.
"With Brennan, it’s all about confidence," Taylor said. "He was ready to go from the moment he came in tonight."
Falls led by as much as 27-14 in the second quarter before a couple of putback layups from Nordonia center Logan Jankowski cut into the lead, as Falls went to the half up 29-21.
Jankoweski was a bright spot for the Knights, as had a season-high 16 points in the loss.
"We told Logan we wanted him to go out and rebound, rebound, rebound," Sanders said. "He did that, but consistency is the name of the game."
Falls’ offense came in waves in the third quarter, as the Black Tigers hit three 3-pointers and also converted an and-one situation, while the Knights managed only two field goals in the quarter.
Three-pointers were major weapons for Falls as the Black Tigers hit six triples in the first three quarters, compared to one for the Knights.
Guerin hit a 3-pointer just before the third-buzzer, giving Falls a 47-27 lead after three. Despite the 20-point cushion, Taylor wasn’t letting his guard down.
"They do such a great job on defense," Taylor said. "We handled their pressure well early. We all had turnovers. We knew it wasn’t over after the third quarter, because they always play hard."
Taylor was right.
Sanders unleashed Nordonia’s full-court press in the fourth quarter and the Knights opened on an 8-0 before being called for a technical foul.
Henderson helped the game in Falls’ favor, as he went 6-of-6 from the line in the fourth quarter.
Nordonia finally found its shooting stroke from distance in the last two minutes of the game, including Cooper Rusk converting a four-point play.
Nordonia finished game on a 16-3 run, but ran out of time in the end. A 3-pointer from the Knights’ Josh Malone at the buzzer gave the game its final margin.
Nordonia will travel to North Royalton Friday at 7:30 p.m., while the Black Tigers will play host to archrival Stow-Munroe Falls Friday at 7 p.m.
"Hopefully, we have a few more good practices this week," Taylor said.