STOW — Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball coach Dave Close has been around long enough to know cycles of rebuilding can last different lengths of time.
First-year Nordonia coach Dominique Sanders is learning that lesson the hard way as his Knights came into the contest Tuesday at James. G Tyree Gymnasium looking to arrest a skid that lasted nearly all of January.
In fact, Nordonia’s home win over Stow on Dec. 20 was the last time the Knights had tasted victory in the Suburban League National Conference.
Stow has made progress since then, partially with the development of a primary option on offense in sophomore center Van Shyjka. For Nordonia, Tuesday’s game showed progress has been painfully slow.
Shyjka put up a double-double for Stow, helping turn a close game at halftime into a rout, as the Bulldogs ran away with a 51-32 win.
Stow moved to 8-10, 6-5 in the Suburban League National Conference, while Nordonia dropped to 5-12, 3-8 in the National Conference.
"We’ve made progress," Close said. "If you saw a tape of our first three games versus where we are now, it’s night and day. We’re a long way from where we want to be.
"Recently, we’ve been driving the basketball and looking to make the pass instead of just looking for our shot," he added. "It’s beautiful basketball when that happens."
Sanders was furious with his team’s effort, particularly in the second half, and let the Knights hear it in the locker room. He called the Knights "stagnant," particularly on offense.
"We understand we’re going to struggle offensively. We know we’re not a great shooting team," Sanders said. "To not be in the right place on defense, to not go after the ball, to not get after rebounds? It’s unacceptable.
"Things haven’t changed and it’s on us as coaches," he added. "Maybe we’ve been hanging on to certain players too much. We need to change it up."
The rebounding battle was owned by Stow throughout the game as Shyjka used his big body to clear the boards. Shyjka finished with a game-high 20 points and 12 rebounds as Nordonia had no answer for the 6-foot-2 sophomore once he got the ball in his hands.
"Van is a hard worker," Close said. "You can see what he does at the post. That’s one of the taller teams we play and he did a great job on the boards. He’s unselfish, so if you try to double him, he’ll find the open man."
"He controlled the tempo tonight," Sanders said of Shyjka. "He beat us to the spots with his quickness and he did a great job getting through our traps."
Shyjka had nine first-half points, but the Bulldogs didn’t have much else in terms of the offense. Nordonia’s defense was able to get in the passing lanes and force turnovers, though the Knights only managed four first-quarter points.
Nordonia was able to close out the first half on a 7-1 run, cutting the margin to 14-13 in favor of Stow at the half.
"Nordonia is a very good defensive team," Close said. "We knew that they get in the passing lanes. We had 12 turnovers in the first half because I think we were trying to make too many needle-threading passes. They’re in our offense, but we just need to be more patient and look to find another play."
Turnovers early in the second half allowed Nordonia to take a 17-14 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Form that point on, however, it was nearly all Stow.
A pair of 3-pointers from Owen Bainbridge and Cale Marconi keyed an 11-2 run for the Bulldogs, which gave them the lead for good. The Bulldogs also benefited from their dribble penetration as Jack Costs and Shyjka each completed and-one situations in the third quarter.
Costa finished with eight points and eight rebounds for the Bulldogs, as he was Stow’s primary drive. He finished the night 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. Bainbridge finished with eight points and four rebounds.
After Nordonia pulled the lead back to 25-24, Stow finished the third quarter on a 6-0 run to lead 31-24 after three quarters.
The Bulldogs were just getting warmed up, opening the fourth quarter on another 6-0 run, thanks to a pair of Shyjka layups.
Stow kept pushing and Norodonia had no answers as the Bulldogs outscored the Knights 20-8 in the final quarter, despite Close emptying his bench with about two minutes to go. Stow led by as many as 22 points late.
Free throws were a major asset for Stow, as the Bulldogs went 17-of-24 from the line, inclduing 10-of-14 in the fourth quarter alone. Nordonia went 7-of-10 from the from the line for the game.
Nordonia was led by eight points from junior Joel Jones, but the Knights’ lack of consistent offense was evident in the second half.
"Their adjustment on defense in the second half was to pull the zone back and contest everything in the lane," Sanders said. "We’ve got guys passing up open shots. We need to take those."
Stow will host Twinsburg Friday at home at 7:30 p.m. while the Knights will host Brecksville Friday at 7:30 p.m.
"We need to man up," Sanders said.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO