LAKE TWP.: Jackson came out of the tunnel Friday night wearing all gold jerseys for the first time this season, but its offense came out red hot.
The Polar Bears took down Lake 79-62 and ended the Blue Streaks’ undefeated run before a sellout crowd at Lake High School.
Jackson (13-2, 9-2) opened the game on a 16-6 run, led by seniors Evan Bailey and Mitch Pugh, forcing a flurry of turnovers in the first few minutes of the game and converting in transition. The lead was quickly extended, as the Polar Bears made seven 3-pointers — four by senior David Smith — in the first half to open up a 44-26 lead at halftime.
By that time, the Lake crowd was stifled and the Blue Streaks (15-1, 9-1) struggled to mount a run.
“That’s how we play. We get up and down, so we’re averaging 80 points a game and tonight we had 79,” Jackson coach Tim Debevec said. “That’s how we want to play. We came out with energy, pressured them on defense. It started on defense and was converted into offense.”
Pugh ended up with a game-high 23 points. Smith finished with 20 points, 14 coming in the first half on a Reggie Miller-like streak to end the second quarter, when he made three 3-pointers in a five-possession span.
Bailey had a double-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four steals and senior Kyle Mottice did much of the damage in the second half after sitting most of the first half due to foul trouble, finishing with 13 points and five steals.
Those four seniors displayed the type of leadership Debevec was looking for after he said Jackson had a bad practice on Thursday, which followed more than a week away from the court due to weather conditions.
“The seniors stepped up. Those seniors, they wanted it tonight,” Debevec said. “That time off might have even helped us. The big thing is we lost the first time [against Lake this season]. Kids were hungry, came out to play and prove something tonight.”
Jackson isn’t likely to catch up to Lake in the Federal League standings (Lake will be heavily favored in two games against Boardman to wrap up its conference schedule), but Friday night’s win was a big step in the right direction for a team entering a tough stretch of games in an effort to get ready for postseason play.
Jackson entered the game ranked No. 6 in the state in Division I, one spot behind Lake. The Polar Bears will play No. 4-ranked Zanesville (a game that was rescheduled from earlier in the year) on Wednesday and then defending state champion Mentor on Feb. 8. Seeding for the postseason is Feb. 9.
“These next couple games are big for seeding. Our kids were reminded of that, that tonight was big for seeding. And we had more energy tonight, I think.”
For Lake, senior Mitchell Spotleson had 23 points and senior Alex Belinsky had 12 points, including the first nine for the Blue Streaks. Lake coach Tom McBride thinks his players will respond well to their first loss of the season.
“They’ll fight back,” he said. “You gotta take a team that hit seven 3-pointers in the first half and pat them on the butt. I’m man enough and have done this for enough years, you take your hat off to a team that gets off to a start like that. But we were fortunate enough to be the better team the first time. It’s nice to know that we lost the battle but if we take care of business, we can win the war.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.