by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Medina -- A few weeks ago, the Tallmadge boys basketball team saw virtually no signs of life during a woeful nine-game losing streak.
My, how things have changed.
The host Blue Devils won their fourth game in their last six contests after posting a lopsided 85-53 victory over Akron Garfield Feb. 2 at James O. Maddox Court.
Four players scored in double figures and Tallmadge shot 62 percent from the floor, including 67 percent (10-of-15) from three-point range.
"We shot the ball really well and it was a team effort across the board," Blue Devils head coach Aaron Hinkle said. "We're starting to gel as a team, but we still have many hurdles to overcome and areas we need to improve."
The Blue Devils led 41-25 at halftime and 59-38 after three quarters. Point guard Nate Bickar knocked down four three-pointers on his way to a team-high 16 points. Forward John Rensel added 11 points and guard Anthony Gotto and forward Damon Gidley each had 10 points for Tallmadge.
On Feb. 1, the Blue Devils lost a 59-54 decision to Highland Feb. 1 in Medina.
The Hornets (10-7, 6-4) led by as many as 13 (22-9) before the Blue Devils went on a 7-0 run. Highland built its advantage back up to 11 (27-16), but Tallmadge responded with a 12-2 spurt.
The Blue Devils also had a 9-0 run that started late in the third quarter and continued in the fourth period. That final flurry cut the Hornets' lead to 46-45 with a little more than five minutes left.
In the end, Highland point guard Tanner Houska was just too much for Tallmadge.
He finished with a game-high 25 points and made 12-of-14 from the foul line. Houska knocked down four consecutive free throws after the Blue Devils got within one.
He delivered the dagger when he took a few dribbles, made a spin move and threw up a left-handed floater to give the Hornets a 54-49 advantage with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left.
"He was very aggressive off the dribble and was able to get to the rim," Hinkle said of Houska. "They [the Hornets] just made more plays down the stretch. It came down to one or two possessions. We just couldn't get over that hump."
Highland made 17-of-21 free throws for the game.
"We have worked our tails off shooting free throws," Hornets head coach Michael Murphy said. "Last year, we were at 52 percent. This year, we're at 64 percent. It gives us another weapon."
Brennan Scott had 12 points for Highland and Austin Casenhiser finished with 10 points for the Hornets.
Gotto led Tallmadge with 19 points and Gidley and Andrew Francesconi added nine and eight points, respectively, for the Blue Devils.
"I was really proud of the guys," Hinkle said. "They competed and represented their school well. I thought we did a good job defending the three-point line in the second half."
Highland buried both of its three-pointers in the first half. The Hornets missed all six of their three-point attempts in the final 16 minutes.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, made seven three-pointers for the game.
"The big thing was they [the Blue Devils] made shots," Murphy said. "When they needed a big shot, they usually made them."