Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With the first half winding down, the Brecksville Bees found themselves in familiar territory.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Tim Tupa and a conventional 3-point play from Luke Cipolla had given them a 30-21 lead over Westlake with 30.1 seconds left in the second quarter. It was just a week earlier, they had built a substantial first-half lead against Berea-Midpark, only to see the Titans rally in the second half to get the win.
As the third quarter began, is was one of those deja vu moments for the visiting Bees.
The Demons got a Makis Beach 3-pointer to close out the half, then came out of the locker room shooting. They scored the game's next 13 points and outscored Brecksville 18-2 in the quarter to run away with a 64-48 win in a key Southwestern Conference game Friday night.
With the win, Westlake remained undefeated at 11-0 and kept pace with Berea-Midpark in the SWC standings at 5-0. The Demons outscored the visitors 43-18 from Beach's 3-pointer on, shooting 54 percent from the floor in the process.
Brecksville fell to 7-6 overall and 2-3 in the conference after having another third-quarter letdown. Against the Berea-Midpark, the Bees had found themselves on the wrong side of a 17-2 third quarter.
In the first half, it seemed as if the Bees couldn't miss. They hit six 3-pointers, three each from Cipolla and Tupa, to build their first-half lead. But in the third quarter, Westlake's defense tightened and held Brecksville to just one field goal, that a on a bucket inside by senior Christian Harris at the 2:42 mark.
On top of that, the Bees did not hit another 3-pointer the rest of the way.
"We wanted to defend their threes a little bit better in the second half, and I though we did," said Westlake head coach Shawn Hood, whose team hit seven treys on the night.
"I thought they maybe tightened up a little bit and weren't taking as many of those shots in the second half," he said. "But really, there was no magic formula. We started making shots, and then they started missing a couple. Gavin Skelly is a great rebounder, and he was getting most of the defensive rebounds. And that's really what caused the turnaround for us.
"Steve's a great coach, he really is. But if they don't make shots, what's he going to do?" he added.
There wasn't much Brecksville head coach Steve Mehalik could do. Beach opened the half with his second 3-pointer of the game, then hit a drive for two to cut the Bees' lead to one in the opening seconds of the half. A baseline jumper from Joe Hadib-Nissan put the Demons on top, 31-30 with Mehalik taking a timeout just two minutes in.
But that didn't slow the Demons. Skelly, Westlake's senior 6-8 forward, came back and drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to keep the run going. He followed that up with a fast break, left-handed slam off an ally-oop pass to further ignite the home crowd and push the lead to 36-30.
A Connor Meek free throw made it a 13-0 run before Harris finally got the Bees on the board. But the Demons ran off the next eight points, the last three coming on a long-range trey from Beach, to make it 45-32 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter.
"They made shots in the third quarter and we didn't," said Mehalik after the game.
"Right now, we're still a work in progress. This was our first week of practice with everybody," he said. "We've said it before, they're a good basketball team. You can't spot a good basketball team a lot of points. We'll get there, we're just not there right now.
"They're a very good defensive team, they rebound the ball and they make shots. And they made a lot of threes. That's the difference between this Westlake team and Westlake teams of the past, they can shoot the basketball," he added.
Another Demon who had a hot shooting hand was junior Anthony Trujillo, who came off the bench to lead the team in scoring with 19 points. He had 10 of those points in the third quarter as Westlake's lead continued to build.
"He gave them an energy off the bench and changed the way we had to defend," Mehalik said of Trujillo, who also worked under the boards for five rebounds. "I thought we did a nice job on Gavin, but they had some other players step up and make plays.
Beach finished with 15 points, while Skelly had 13 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Hadib-Nissan chipped in with 10 points and six rebounds, while 6-2 junior Cameron Brown had seven rebounds. And the bench, led by the efforts of Trujillo, again played substantial minutes.
"That's a part of our philosophy, and people questioned it," Hood said. "They ask 'why is he putting those young kids in at such a crucial juncture of the game?' I say it's because I want them to be good.
"There's no other way to make them good without putting them in at crucial segments of the game," he continued. "You can't manufacture that kind of experience in practice, you have to just put them in there.
"You know, I'm willing to lose games for Danny Slavik, Anthony Trujillo, Josh Gibson and Andris Balodis to make them better and make us a deeper team. That is who I want us to be as a group. I want to foster that depth.
"I want that to be part of Westlake basketball, that we can play nine or 10 and not miss a beat," he added."
Brecksville was led by Cipolla, who scored 16 points. Tupa finished with 12 points, while 6-4 senior Jon Balhorn finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Harris contributed seven points and eight rebounds.
"We're playing our roster against some really good basketball teams," Mehalik said. "We're not the team we're going to be in a month and a half, I promise you. We've made some progress, and the last two weeks we're winning at the half against two of the better teams in the city.
"Now we've got to put together four quarters," he added.
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