Falls boys basketball gets rough return to play from Hoban

Steve Batko
Correspondent

It already has been a long journey for a Cuyahoga Falls boys basketball team that finally got to open its season in a challenging setting.

Following a 2-21 campaign in which the Black Tigers made big strides on the court, the program was eager to do just that – hit the court and show just how much the club has improved.

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Then Falls and second-year coach Todd Taylor had to slam on the brakes.

After a host of practices in early November and a few scrimmages, the Black Tigers had to pause athletics like many area basketball programs due to COVID-19 issues.

The season opener came against Archbishop Hoban, which already had six games under their belt and has collected several huge wins. Falls had seven games postponed.

Hoban won 68-40 on the strength of a whopping 13 three-point shots.

Hoban’s schedule this season looks more like a tournament seed drawing, featuring strongholds like Massillon Jackson, Green, Cleveland Benedictine, and North Canton Hoover.

The Knights (6-1) suffered their lone loss at the buzzer to Jackson.

“It was probably not the ideal opener for us, but we went out there and our kids really competed hard,” said Taylor. “Coming in, we knew it would be a challenge. Hoban is tested already and we had some kids missing.”

While Hoban cruised to victory, it’s important to note that Falls fought back to get within 12 points early in the third period thanks to some huge 3-pointers by junior Jayden Hillier.

It wasn’t just Hillier – Falls played sound team defense and battled back.

Falls did this without its leading scorer and senior guard Kyler Tepus and veteran senior Nick Hyder, who should both be medically cleared to play soon.

“We missed Kyler and Nick, but no excuses,” offered Taylor. “Jayden did a great job. It was a challenge in our first game, but I thought we strung together three really good practices coming in.”

“Our guys did a great job cutting it to 12,” Taylor added. “It never really felt like a 28-point game. I thought we mixed defenses well and the guys closed out well on shooters. It’s sounds crazy, but I thought we played well defensively. Hoban has some shooters.”

With a crowded and gifted backcourt, led by the 6-foot-3 Tepus and senior point guard Trinny Henderson as a pair of All-Suburban League second-team choices, Taylor is optimistic about this winter.

Hyder is also a sharpshooter who was missed in the opener.

Fortunately, Henderson and Hillier had strong games for the Black Tigers to offset Hoban’s pressure and strong transition play.

A 5-10 guard, Hillier registered career highs of 14 points and four triples.

Henderson netted nine points and dished out six assists for Falls.

Two more seniors came up big for Falls. Undersized forwards Zander Miller (seven points) and David Rinehart (six points) contributed on the offensive end and worked in the paint.

Falls had several players with three rebounds, but that’s an area where the smallish Black Tigers will look to improve with technique, footwork, positioning and most importantly, having willing athletes to go after the ball.

“We know we will be the smallest team each time we’re on the court, but we can’t get beat on the glass like that and we had too many turnovers,” stressed Taylor, whose club allowed eight offensive boards by Hoban in a 38-21 first half.

“I thought we actually played pretty well on defense at times, but Hoban had too many second chances,” Taylor said. “We will work on that, but I was pleased with our effort.”

In that first half, the Black Tigers also committed 11 turnovers against the Knight’s defensive pressure. It was 19-8 as the first quarter expired.

Besides the career offensive game by Hillier and Rinehart having a superb outing, Taylor was also thrilled to get a pair of freshmen their first varsity action.

Freshmen Tim Mitchell (a 6-1 forward) and Bryce Smith (5-10 guard) saw their first play. Smith buried a 3-pointer in the second half and Mitchell added a free throw.

In addition, freshman Le’Aaron Austin was added to the varsity roster. Austin, a 6-3 post player, started the season on the junior varsity and brings much-needed height for the Black Tigers.

Taylor noted that the team’s next contest – the Suburban League National Conference opener Jan. 8 against defending champion North Royalton is now set to be on the road as opposed to being at home.

“We will build on the positives that we had against Hoban and continue to work hard,” said Taylor, who also has tested seniors in Isaiah Campbell and Brennan Guerin, who can play guard and on the wing.

Falls hosts league rival Twinsburg Jan. 12.