CUYAHOGA FALLS: For whatever reason, Cuyahoga Falls has Stow figured out.
Black Tigers coach Rob Slone can’t quite put his finger on it, but it’s not likely that he cares, given the end result.
Three of the Bulldogs’ five losses of the season have come at the hands of the Black Tigers after Cuyahoga Falls took a Canton Division I sectional final game at home by a final score of 48-40 on Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t know why we match up with them,” Slone said. “Coach Close and I both knew what was going to happen when we came into the game. We’re not running anything they haven’t seen and they’re not running anything I haven’t seen. It’s whether or not you can step up and stop it and who makes the most big plays down the stretch. And I thought we had a couple of big plays that turned the momentum.”
The biggest of those plays came at the end of the third quarter when Falls senior guard Jay Slone knocked down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Tigers a 27-23 lead, which at that point was the biggest lead of the game.
The Tigers (16-7) missed their first shot, a two-pointer from the baseline, but 6-foot-7 senior forward Angelo Cugini tipped it out to the top of the key where Nick Winar picked it up and handed it off to Slone who sent the sold-out crowd at Cuyahoga Falls into a frenzy.
“The problem was they shouldn’t have got the rebound,” Stow coach Dave Close said. “We had kids waiting for the buzzer to sound and all of the sudden there’s a scrum for the ball and he buries the 3. Certainly, that was the turning point of the game.”
The momentum carried over into the fourth quarter when Slone and Cugini each quickly knocked down 3-pointers, extending the Tigers lead to nine at 35-26.
Cugini, the Tigers’ leader and best player, was clearly the focus of the Bulldogs’ defense as he was held to two points in the first half. In the meantime, though, he was picked up by fellow senior Josh Ricker, who was seemingly the only Tiger that could make a jump shot early, scoring eight first-half points. He finished with a team-high 15. Cugini finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“Josh always plays well against Stow,” Slone said. “I was confident with him coming into the game that he was going to be able to stay focused and hit shots because he’s used to doing it.”
The Bulldogs (19-5) were a two-man show the entire game, led by seniors Jacob Williams and Matt Beech. No other Stow player scored for the first 29 minutes of the game until Nathan Bower-Malone scored with 3:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“The other guys just weren’t making shots,” Close said. “Shots that we wanted to get. I think both teams had a case of the big-game jitters. We kept telling them the shots would fall and they never did.”
Williams led all scorers with 20 points and Beech added 10.
The seventh-seeded Tigers move on to face fourth-seeded Canton Timken (16-4) in a district semifinal at Canton Memorial Civic Center at 7 p.m. Thursday.