Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
After a convincing win over North Olmsted last Friday, Westlake faced a tough test as West Shore Conference co-leader Lakewood brought it’s trapping defense and fast-break offense to town.
But as the game’s final buzzer sounded, the Demons’ defense had passed the test with flying colors.
Westlake defused the Rangers’ potent transition attack and used a strong half-court game on the way to a 61-45 win Tuesday night. The win upped the Demons’ overall record to 8-3 heading into Friday night’s big Southwestern Conference game at Brecksville.
“I thought our guys played really good defense,” said Westlake head coach Shawn Hood, whose team allowed just 11 field goals on the night and just three 2-pointers overall.
“That was the goal. We wanted to guard them,” Hood said. “We wanted to make it a half-court defensive game for us. We wanted to get back and make them play against our five guys, and I think we did that for the most part.
“Plus we had Gavin Skelly back there making them miss shots or blocking the shot, so that always helps,” Hood said of his 6-8 junior post player. “But in the second half, they started making threes, so it’s harder to do that.”
The first quarter was played on relatively even terms, with a pair of missed free throws by the Rangers allowing Westlake to hold a slim 14-12 lead. And things started well enough for the Rangers in the second quarter as senior Aaron Donahoe’s bucket inside tied the score just 22 seconds in.
But that was as close as Lakewood would get to the Demons the rest of the way.
The Rangers scored just one more time the rest of the half, that coming on a Pete Nelson 3-pointer with 2:49 remaining in the second quarter. They managed just eight shots in the frame and turned the ball over seven times as Westlake made its run.
Senior forward Jamie Lackner got things starte with a baby hook inside, a shot that put Westlake ahead for good at 16-14. Junior guard Makis Beach nailed a 3-pointer, which was eventually answered by Nelson’s trey.
With the score 19-17, the Demons scored the last five points of the half for a 24-17 lead. An Aaron Wargo free throw, a turnaround baseline jumper from Beach and a baseline drive for two from the right side by Bryan Mackenzie had the momentum swinging in the home team’s direction.
In the third quarter, the Demons started off red hot offensively as they continued to build their lead.
Gavin Skelly scored inside on the very first play of the half, then senior guard Shawn Turk pulled up for an NBA-range 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 29-17, Demons. That’s when senior Danny Strodtbeck got the hot hand.
The 5-11 forward drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 32-17. Nelson answered with his second trey of the game, but Westlake quickly advanced the ball up the court and found Strodtbeck all alone in the corner again. And again, he drilled a three to make it 35-20.
Undaunted, Lakewood followed up with another trey, this one from junior guard Shawn McDonald. Strodtbeck, however, came back with his third straight 3-pointer from the left corner, prompting a Lakewood timeout.
McDonald hit back-to-back treys to pull the Rangers back to within striking distance at 38-29. But scored inside from Wargo and fellow junior Connor Meek gave Westlake a 42-29 advantage heading into the final quarter.
Two treys from Donahoe, one from junior guard Mike Angers and another from 6-5 post player Cameron Silver kept Lakewood in the game in the final eight minutes. But the Rangers could never get past the double digit deficit.
Westlake closed out the game at the line and at the rim. The Demons converted six of eight free throws in the final 2:11, while Skelly registered a pair of slam dunks in the final minute, the second coming on an ally-oop pass from Mackenzie.
“We just didn’t execute,” said Lakewood assistant coach Alex Cammock. Head coach Phil Argento missed Tuesday night’s game because of the flu, Cammock said.
“We got away from moving the ball efficiently and effectively,” Cammock said. “Against a big team like that, you have to move the basketball and make them rotate. We didn’t do that, and that really hurt us.
“We’ve got to be more effective in our half-court offense,” he added.
The Rangers found the going tough inside against Westlake’s size, but were successful from the 3-point line with 11 treys for the game. McDonald led all scorers with 18 points, while Donahoe and Nelson each added eight as the Rangers shot just 30 percent (14 of 47) from the floor.
“We shoot a lot of threes, so that’s not too unusual for us. But we didn’t finish as well as we normally do in transition,” Cammock said.
“They’ve got some big boys, and maybe that had something to do with it. We’ve got to be strong and go finish, and we didn’t do a good job of that tonight,” he concluded.
Mackenzie led a balanced Demon offense with 16 points, while Skelly finished with 13 points andeight rebounds. beach and Strodtbeck both put 10 points in the scorebook for the Demons, who shot 41 percent (22 of 54) from the floor.
“I don’t really worry about us scoring points,” Hood said. “We have good offensive players. I worry about if we can guard people, keep people in front of us. It was a good measurement of whether or not we can guard the next team on our schedule.”
That next team will be Brecksville. The Demons shared the Southwestern Conference title with the Bees last year and lost to them in the Division I tournament. Friday night’s SWC encounter will be played at The Hive.
Lakewood, now 9-3, will resume West Shore Conference play Friday night at Avon.