Buchtel bounces scrappy Tallmadge boys basketball from playoffs

Roger Gordon
Correspondent
Tallmadge's Ty Hurst, left, steals the ball away from Cuyahoga Falls' Jayden Hillier during the second half of a basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

The Tallmadge boys basketball team faced a talented squad led by a possible future NBA player Feb. 26 in a Division II Northeast 5 sectional final.

The outcome was as expected as the 29th-seeded Blue Devils lost 93-55 at second-seeded Akron Buchtel.

Tallmadge finished the season with an 8-8 record.

“The overall outcome of the game was probably due to the fact that Buchtel is really good,” Tallmadge head coach Bill Johnson said. “They have a player, Chris Livingston, who’s going to be highly recruited.”

The Blue Devils trailed 30-11 after one quarter, 47-22 at halftime and 70-42 after three quarters.

“I would say early on we did a good job of getting shots we wanted. With four minutes to go in the first quarter, the score was 17-11,” said Johnson. “I felt like we had done really good things up to that point. I felt like we had three, four or five other good shots that we just didn’t convert.

“Buchtel’s pressure, athletic ability and strength caught up to us a little bit, which is why the score looked the way it did. But our kids should be really proud because they never quit, they never stopped fighting. In a game like that, you could easily just quit, but we didn’t. Our kids fought and really played hard. It was just a matter of Buchtel putting the ball in the basket more than we did. They also forced us to play a little faster than we wanted to.”

Pacing Tallmadge were junior guard Kyle Ries, who scored 14 points, and sophomore forward Collin Dixon, who had 11 points.

“Kyle really played hard,” Johnson said. “He got really good looks and never backed down from Buchtel’s defense. He really attacked them and was able to get to the basket a few times. His energy level was the reason we were able to keep playing them tight.”

Three nights earlier, in a sectional semifinal on Feb. 23 at James O. Maddox Court, Tallmadge was on the right side of a rout of its own in a 72-39 victory over 33rd-seeded Sheffield Brookside.

The Blue Devils led 20-12 after the first quarter, 36-19 at the half and 58-31 after the third quarter.

“Brookside played zone, and I thought we did a really good job of executing what we wanted to do to get a lead,” said Johnson. “The game felt like it was our pace and our tempo the entire time, even early on. We were able to do what we wanted to do to be successful.”

Leading the way for Tallmadge was sophomore point guard Ty Hurst, who scored 24 points, including five three-pointers.

“Ty kind of is an extension of me on the court and does a great job of putting us in the right positions,” the coach said. “He was the guy who was open for shots, and he knocked them down. He had three three-pointers early in the game that really kind of propelled us and got us going.”

Senior post player Will Hudak scored 14 points, Dixon scored 10 points and senior forward Ethan Taylor had nine points.

“Will came off our bench,” said Johnson. “He just did the right things, and he got in the right positions in which he was able to make the shots he got. He’s always in the right spot at the right time, and that was no different this night.

“Collin is our guy every night who we can count on to be able to do things for us. He and Ethan did an awesome job in the post finding holes in Brookside’s zone and finding open shots early on that were able to create for us the rest of the game.”

According to Johnson, his team’s never-say-die attitude enabled it to recover from an 0-5 start to this COVID-crazy season.

“We had two shutdowns of multiple periods of time, but our kids never quit, never stopped fighting,” he said. “We played games with different personnel multiple times and yet ended up .500. While I know that’s not lighting the world on fire, I couldn’t be prouder of the kids’ effort, their willingness to continue to fight and get through it all. It says a lot about them.”

Johnson will lose four seniors to graduation – Hudak, Taylor, Caden Zajac and Nicholas Lambacher.

“I give our four seniors,” he said, “a ton of credit for being able to withstand what we went through the last year, not being able to have a summer and not even knowing if they were going to get to play this season. They never quit working, they showed up to everything we asked them to show up to, they worked as hard as they could. They were great leaders in that aspect because they showed our younger kids that, no matter what, it’s about showing up, it’s about trying to do the best you can every time. They will be greatly missed, and I’m really glad they were able to get a season in this year. I’m thankful that I was able to coach them.”

As for next season, Johnson cannot wait for it to get here.

“We’ll return seven varsity players who played significant minutes this season,” he said. “Three were starters, two of which averaged double figures in scoring. I really think we should have high expectations for next year.”