By Dan Walk
Playing in its fourth game this week and arriving later than planned due to a transportation mishap on the way to Erie Insurance Arena, the Conneaut boys basketball team was a bit sluggish at the start of its Region 3 game against Maplewood on Saturday.
The game was tied at 13 after one quarter before the Eagles were ahead 28-22 at halftime. Then, the second half appeared, and a totally different Conneaut team entered the court.
The Eagles (9-5, 5-0 Region 3) outscored the Tigers 20-4 in the third quarter and 41-19 during the second half en route to a 69-41 victory.
Conneaut’s victory comes a day after a 60-42 triumph over conference rival Cambridge Springs and six days before the Eagles face Saegertown, which is also unbeaten in the region.
“(We were) definitely tired,” said Tyler Bartlett, who paced Conneaut with 22 points, nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks on Saturday. “With the big region game (Friday) night and (Saturday), it was kind of hard to get going at first, but we picked it up in the second half.”
After a 2-pointer by Conneaut’s Sid Smith, who scored 17 points, Maplewood’s Justin Dahl came back with a 3 to pull his team to within five at 30-25. That’s when the Eagles started a 25-1 run from 6:53 left in the third quarter to 5:02 remaining in the game.
“When they had open shots, they made them,” Maplewood head coach Jeremy Peterson said. “When we had open shots, they missed them. I think their effort level was a little higher than ours in the third quarter. That was the key.”
Conneaut successfully ran its inside-and-out game during that lengthy surge. And whenever the Eagles were inside the paint, Maplewood (3-9, 1-2) was either forced to foul or give up an easy shot.
The total complexion of the game changed in the second half, as the Eagles were just 5-of-7 from the free-throw line in the first half and 15-for-24 during the final two quarters. Conneaut was in the double bonus just 19 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“We try to start our offense inside and then kind of work out,” Conneaut head coach Bob Leupold said. “If they start double-teaming, we’ll feed it back out to Sid because he’s such a good 3-point shooter. We’re trying to run that inside and outside game and it worked pretty good in the second half.”
Maplewood’s Dane Barker knocked down a deuce with 5:02 left in the game to slow Conneaut’s run. But by then, the game was already out of reach at 55-28.
The Tigers continually made plays in the paint during a solid first quarter. They worked hard to rebound the ball offensively, led by Alex Reagle, who scored four of his six points during the first eight minutes. Conneaut started to pull away before a 3-pointer by Barker dropped in with nine seconds left in the first half to pull Maplewood within 28-22 at the break.
“In the first half, we played physical, good basketball,” Peterson said. “But against a team like that, you have to play four quarters. We have to learn to sustain our efforts for longer than a half.”
Bartlett had 12 points and Smith had 11 during the first two quarters. But the Eagles started to get more diverse as the game went on, as six players scored their only points of the game during the second half.
Dahl scored a team-best seven points for Maplewood. Reagle and Miller Peters had six, and Barker tallied five.
Conneaut now turns its attention to Friday’s game against Saegertown, which beat Union City 71-60 on Saturday, also at Erie Insurance Arena during a trio of games that led up to an Erie Bayhawks NBA Developmental League contest.
Bartlett hopes Saturday’s second half is just what his team needs going into the Eagles’ clash with the Panthers.
“Our team’s actually starting to come together and we’re starting to get confidence in each other,” Bartlett said. “It’s going to be something to watch out for in the future.”