CUYAHOGA FALLS — When Woodridge hosted Norton on Friday, the Bulldogs already had the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division basketball title in their back pocket.
But the Panthers provided a different motivation for the Bulldogs. Norton had beaten Woodridge the past three times the teams met.
“We consider them a rival,” Woodridge coach Ric Blevins said. “When it's February and it's hard to get up for practice, you need motivation and they’ve provided it for us.”
Woodridge (16-4, 12-1) avenged its lone loss in the Metro Division and ran its winning streak to 10 games with a decisive 78-62 win over Norton.
Blevins favors a man-to-man defense, but he chose to have the Bulldogs play a 2-3 zone against a taller Panthers team. It worked to perfection in the first half.
“I thought it worked in the second half, too. We just didn’t rebound as well,” Blevins said. “I thought the first half was our best rebounding half of the season. We’ve got weaknesses. Any time you can hide them is good. My guys did a great job with their gap protection.”
Norton coach B.J. Sanderson said his team got outworked by the Bulldogs.
“Tonight, we didn’t get after it,” Sanderson said. “They deserved to win tonight. We got outhustled, we got outworked, we got beat to every loose ball and they hit just about every shot."
On its Senior Night, the Bulldogs’ senior class came to play. Guard Michael Massey was hot early, making four 3-pointers in the first quarter. Massey finished with 17 points, all of which came before halftime.
Ahead 24-13 after one quarter, Woodridge got a big boost off the bench from senior guard Jabron Driskill. Driskill showed every facet of his game, making outside shots, rebounding and diving for loose balls. He finished with a game-high 18 points and five rebounds.
“I just wanted to play hard because it was my last game here,” Driskill said. “We had lost to them the last three times, so I wanted to get after it.”
Woodridge switched to the zone to try to deal with Panthers forward Phillip Wallace, who lit up the Bulldogs for 31 points in their first meeting. Wallace finished with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers (10-8, 8-5), but was largely a nonfactor until the fourth quarter.
“I’ve seen that guy dominate against teams our size in the post,” Blevins said. “I don’t think he got too many post looks tonight. If he has to go outside to get his shots, I’m fine with that.”
Behind 38-20 at the half, Sanderson told his troops to increase the intensity in the second half.
Norton was able to cut into the deficit, thanks to some good work by guard Tyler Scott (10 points) and forward Nate Dobber, but never got closer than 10 points.
“It just came down to making hustle plays and being aggressive,” Sanderson said. “It can’t be part time for us. I can’t call time out after every run they make.”
Senior guard DJ Snyder had 12 points for Woodridge, and senior Dominick Reinart had 13 for Norton.