TALLMADGE — He once bled black and gold.
Therefore, Bill Johnson can easily relate to his alma mater’s struggles.
"I’ve been on the other side of it so I know how it feels," he said.
Johnson was on the "other side" Tuesday. And let’s just say he’s feeling pretty good about his new favorite colors.
The host Tallmadge boys basketball team cruised past Suburban League crossover rival Cuyahoga Falls 65-39 at James O. Maddox Court. With the win, Johnson’s Blue Devils, who are more partial to blue and gold colors, improved to 6-9. The Black Tigers dropped to 2-12.
Tallmadge exploded out of the gates to take a 25-0 lead and didn’t look back. Johnson, a Falls’ graduate and former assistant basketball coach with the Black Tigers, would love nothing more than to see his former team right its ship and get back on track.
Interestingly enough, that appears to be exactly what his current team is doing.
"I truly believe that this was the most complete game that we played as far as executing the scouting report, moving the basketball, playing together," Johnson said.
They’re playing exceptional defense too.
Thanks to the Blue Devils’ active hands and quick feet, Falls couldn’t buy a basket for what seemed like an eternity.
The Black Tigers didn’t score their first points until junior point guard Trinny Henderson converted two free throws with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the first half.
"Honestly, shots didn’t go in for them," Johnson said. "I think our kids really locked in on what we were trying to do. I thought we rebounded the ball excellently."
It didn’t hurt to have a pair of lockdown defenders either.
Senior guards Luke Thomas and Brandon Heigelmann neutralized Falls’ dangerous duo of junior guards Trinny Henderson and Kyler Tepus.
Henderson finished with a team-high 14 points, but 12 of his points took place after halftime when the game was decided. Tepus, who recently returned to the starting lineup after missing several games with an illness, scored just four second-half points.
"I thought we did a good job of containing Trinny Henderson," Johnson said. "I thought Luke did an awesome job. Brandon guarded [Kyler] Tepus. I don’t think either of those two beat us and that’s kind of what we were looking for."
It wasn’t a total masterpiece for Tallmadge. The Blue Devils could have built an even more substantial advantage if they took better care of the ball. Tallmadge committed 10 turnovers in the first 16 minutes.
Johnson preferred not to sweat the small stuff, though.
Tuesday’s performance was what the second-year coach had hoped to see since the season began two months ago.
"I thought we got really good shots," Johnson said. "We had a little lull. We got the lead and it was a little bit of an exhale. For the most part, I was really happy with the way we moved the ball. It was one of our best ball-movement nights that we’ve had all year."
Not surprisingly, Heigelmann led the way.
The 6-foot-4 senior, who has scored more than 1,000 career points during his stellar career, finished with a game-high 25 points. Senior center Danny Kurko added 11 points for Tallmadge, which had a total of 10 players score at least two points.
Johnson is extremely delighted to see his team find its rhythm in recent weeks. At the same time, though, he knows there are no guarantees when it comes to the rest of the season, particularly against his vaunted Suburban League American Conference opponents.
"We have turned the corner," Johnson said. "Does that mean we win eight straight? Probably not, but I feel like we’re in a really good place. I feel like when we go out there to play, we have a chance to win. We’re excited about where we’re at."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.