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Westlake runs, stuns its way past Braves, 67-53
Westlake runs, stuns its way past Braves, 67-53Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet

Back in the 1980s, Cleveland State used its “run and stun” style of basketball to make a name for itself in the college basketball world.

If Friday night was any indication, the “run and stun” is alive and well in Westlake, Ohio.

Westlake hit visiting Berea hard with a 15-3 run in the second quarter, then used a 21-4 run in the third to stun the Braves, 67-53, in a big early-season Southwestern Conference matchup.

With the win, the Demons remained unbeaten at 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the SWC. Berea, a defending Division I district champion, dropped to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the league.

“I was pleased with how hard we played and how hard we competed,” said Westlake head coach Shawn Hood, who was a big part of CSU’s fast-paced style of play during his playing days.

“I mean, that’s really all I’ve been talking about,” Hood said. “I haven’t talked about a lot of other things because it’s so early in the season. I don’t expect our kids to be perfect in our system yet. But I do expect them to play hard.

“It is one of our cornerstones. I won’t even talk about the other things until we get the intensity out of our kids. I think I’m starting to see that now. I was most pleased with our intensity tonight,” he added.

The two teams battled to a near draw in the first quarter, with the Demons holding a slight 14-13 lead on a rebound for two by junior Bryan Mackenzie that beat the buzzer. Berea took the lead to start the second on a bucket inside by sophomore guard Alex Brown.

It was the last lead of the night for the Braves.

A score inside by senior Grant Gase gave the lead back to the Demons for good, and another Gase bucket off a steal made it 18-15. Sophomore post player Gavin Skelly scored on a pair of short baseline jumpers to make it 22-15, prompting Berea head coach Darren Collins to call a timeout.

The Westlake run, however, continued.

Gase scored on a fast break layup, and senior point guard Ezzat Assad split a pair of free throws to make it 25-15. Brown drilled a 3-pointer for the Braves, but Westlake’s Jamie Lachner converted a pair of charity tosses and teammate Shawn Turk scored on another fast break give Westlake a 29-18 advantage.

Timeout Berea.

The Braves countered with a 6-0 run to close out the half and get back into the game at 29-24. But in the third quarter, Westlake forced eight Berea turnovers to help fuel a 21-4 run that made it 50-28.

During that run, Skelly was a force inside with six points and five rebounds. Turk started the rally with a 3-pointer, and the Demons’ man-to-man defense followed up by allowing just three field goals in the quarter.

“We got into some foul trouble, which put some of our key guys on the bench,” Collins said. “We really couldn’t handle some of the pressure they were giving us. It’s stuff that we’ve worked on. As a matter of fact, we run the same exact thing in practice. But when a couple of mistakes happened, our guys didn’t handle it well. They have to remember that it’s a game of mistakes.

“That first lead they had that we cut into in the first half, I thought we were right there. But in the third quarter, they scored a couple of easy baskets and things steamrolled on us,” he added.

Still, despite trailing 53-33 heading into the fourth quarter, his Braves would make one more effort to get back into the game.

Berea came out with an 11-2 run and eventually cut the lead to 10 points, 57-47, on a bucket inside by senior Joe Vazquez with 3:35 left in the game. Westlake, however, would come up with an answer.

After a long streak of missed scoring opportunities, the Demons went on a 7-0 run to put the game away. Mackenzie scored inside, then Skelly hit a pair of free throws with 3:03 left. Gase scored off an offensive rebound and Mackenzie chipped in with a free throw to make it 64-47 with 1:38 left.

“I was a little disappointed we didn’t keep the big lead, but that’s a very good Berea team,” Hood said. “They’re well coached and talented, and they’re tough kids. They want to win. I’m not real upset about them coming back, but at some point I’d like to see us keep that lead.

“I think we missed something like 14 shots in a row,” Hood said.

The Demons’ first-year head coach said calling a timeout wasn’t a consideration despite Berea’s fourth-quarter rally.

“I would imagine most folks would expect me to call timeout,” Hood said. “I think timeouts are overrated, especially the way we’re playing. We want to wear the other team down. Let them call timeout. We’re playing 12 people and have plenty of fresh legs, so we want to use our timeouts very judiciously.

“I’ll call timeout if I have something to say to my kids. Otherwise, I see no need. I want to save those timeouts for the end of the game to save possessions,” he added.

Skelly, with his best game of the early season, led the Demons with 18 points and 14 rebounds, while Gase added 12 points. Mackenzie had 10 points and nine rebounds, while Turk contributed 10 points to the effort.

Berea was led by 6-6 junior Derrick Hall, who had 14 points and six rebounds. Senior Cody Swinnerton had 11 points and led the Braves under the glass with 13 rebounds.

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