STOW — They each had slim hopes of getting a piece of the the Suburban League National Conference boys basketball title heading into Tuesday night’s showdown.
Stow still has a fighter’s chance. Twinsburg, on the other hand, is in trouble.
Host Stow completed a season sweep over Twinsburg after grinding out a 38-27 victory Tuesday at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
With the win, the Bulldogs, who have had the Tigers’ number over the years, improved to 9-8 overall and 6-3 in the National Conference.
Brecksville, which split its two games against Twinsburg, defeated Stow 56-53 in overtime and is the current leader of the suddenly very competitive National Conference. The Bees are scheduled to host the Bulldogs in a highly anticipated rematch Feb. 22.
Stow got some more life in the title race when Brecksville suffered a 51-45 upset loss to Nordonia on Tuesday. As a result, the Bees now have two losses in conference play.
Brecksville’s unexpected stumble certainly gives his team hope, but longtime Bulldogs coach Dave Close prefers to see his players focus on themselves. Any static from outside forces is strictly prohibited.
“Right now, if you’re focused on the league and you don’t control your destiny, you’re setting yourself up for a potential letdown,” Close said. “We just have to play a game at a time.”
The Tigers, who were once in the driver’s seat to win the title, are now on the outside looking in.
Twinsburg (12-5) has lost three consecutive conference games to fall to 6-4 in the National Conference.
Sneaking into the conference-title picture was the furthest thing from Tigers coach Phil Schmook’s mind, though.
His goal is to figure out how to put together a game plan that puts a lot more points on the scoreboard.
“We need to make shots,” Schmook said. “You can’t win scoring 27 points.”
A major reason for Twinsburg’s offensive ineptitude was Stow’s well-executed 2-3 zone.
The Bulldogs, who have used more zone principles in recent years after spending more than three decades executing a man-to-man strategy, forced the Tigers to take, and miss, many perimeter shots.
“It’s the kind of night it was,” Schmook said. “The kids are playing hard defensively. They’re not trying to miss baskets. We’re just struggling a little bit offensively right now.”
Despite Twinsburg’s massive struggles to solve Stow’s puzzle, the Bulldogs had all kinds of problems taking care of the ball.
Stow committed 11 of its 19 turnovers in the first half as neither team could find any rhythm.
The first half read like this: Bulldogs 12, Tigers 9. The second quarter was even more confounding: Stow 4, Twinsburg 1.
Close wasn’t particularly thrilled with his giveaways, but he was extremely encouraged by his team’s ability to stay in front of its opponent.
“I’m really proud of our kids defensively,” Close said. “I thought we did a nice job getting to shooters. A lot of communication out there. We’re doing that much better.”
The Bulldogs finally gained some distance when they closed the third quarter with a 9-2 run. Freshman guard Owen Bainbridge gave Stow a 25-17 advantage with a 3-pointer from the right side in the final seconds.
Stow ran a couple of pick and rolls and got a nice alley-oop pass to get easy baskets for 6-foot-8 senior forward Evan Bainbridge, who finished with a game-high 14 points and seven rebounds.
“They were switching a lot of screens,” Close said. “We went to a particular offense that got us some really good looks and that’s where we got our space. The kids made some very good decisions to get some easier shots.”
Senior point guard Bryce Harvey added 10 points for the Bulldogs and senior wing Ryan Felberg led the Tigers with eight points.