Tallmadge boys hoops dials long distance to beat Norton


by Frank Aceto

Associate Sports Editor

Norton -- As his team tried to work out some kinks, Tallmadge first-year head boys basketball coach Mike Bluey ran into a rather large problem.

"We lost electricity during practice [Dec. 16] for about 25 minutes," he said.

When the goal is to put the ball in basket, not having light tends to make things a tad bit difficult.

Nevertheless, Bluey insisted that his team continue to work.

Fortunately, the darkness came to light in just the nick of time.

The Blue Devils earned a 68-62 victory over Norton Dec. 17 on the road. By the way, Norton's gym isn't nearly as well lit as the friendly confines of Tallmadge High School's James O. Maddox Court.

Well, when everything is working, at least.

The work in the darkness paid off rather handsomely for Tallmadge. The Blue Devils (4-2) canned a season-high 10 three-pointers en route to the win.

Perhaps Bluey may want to keep the lights off permanently whenever his team practices. Or, maybe he could blindfold his players during shooting drills.

"You never know with kids," Bluey said. "They have a tendency to get in a routine."

Tallmadge needed those outside shots to fall since the Panthers (4-3) had a significant height advantage, thanks mainly to 6-foot-5 post player Dakota Pratt.

While Pratt had his way for much of the first half, the Blue Devils countered with their lethal outside shooting.

Tallmadge took control of the game during the most crucial time.

Trailing 48-45 with less than six minutes left in the game, the Blue Devils put Norton on its heels with their -- surprise -- outside shooting.

Senior guard Nate Bickar buried three-pointers in the left corner on back-to-back possessions to give Tallmadge a 51-48 lead.

The Blue Devils never lost their advantage again.

"That's what seniors should do," Bluey said. "That's someone playing hard and using leadership on the floor. That's someone who is willing to take a big shot like that."

Junior guard Colten Stricker, who spent much time on the bench because of foul trouble, added another three from the opposite corner.

Sophomore guard Justin Cambria followed with a putback to give Tallmadge a 56-50 lead with a little more than three minutes left.

The Panthers tried to attack from the outside after getting behind.

That led to a lot of one-and-done possessions for Norton. Tallmadge ended up clinching the game with a bevy of foul shots down the stretch.

"Pratt put [Blue Devils' junior forward] Andrew Francesconi in a bad spot in the first half," Bluey said. "He showed some very good footwork.

"But Andrew is capable of playing better. Andrew did a better job on him early in the second half and maybe that's why they looked off him."

Despite the Panthers' dominance on the glass in the first half, Tallmadge managed to stay close to its taller opponents.

Norton had a 17-16 lead after one quarter and a 34-32 advantage at halftime.

It seemed like whenever the Panthers had something going, the Blue Devils figured out a way to mess up Norton's plan.

"We never allowed them [the Panthers] to go on their big runs," Bluey said. "I thought we took care of the ball.

"Andrew creates so many things for us because he's going to get double-teamed when he has the ball.

"[Junior guard] Jarrett Ross, who's not known for scoring, hit a big 16-footer [which tied the game at 36 early in the third quarter]. We need to have guys knock down open shots."

Stricker finished with 17 points and Bickar scored eight of his 15 points in the final eight minutes for the Blue Devils. Cambria added nine points for Tallmadge.

Norton guard Justin Blanks led all scorers with 25 points and Pratt scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half.

A total of nine players scored at least two points for the Blue Devils, including senior guard Niko Skeriotis, who scored his only points on a three-pointer in the first half, and junior guard Joseph Vassalotti, who drained two threes in the second quarter.

"We're hoping this is a breakout game for Niko and Joseph," Bluey said. "We're looking for them to work their way from football shape into basketball shape."

The win was a critical one for Tallmadge after losing a 53-45 decision to Suburban League rival Highland Dec. 13 in Medina.

Francesconi led the Blue Devils (2-1 in the league) with 21 points and Cambria added 12 points. The Hornets outscored Tallmadge 32-17 in the second half.

"It's a great way to bounce back," Bluey said. "I think Highland has a good team, but we gave that one away. We didn't play in the second half."

Bluey doesn't mind seeing his players dial long distance.

"We shoot the ball at least a minimum of 25 minutes every practice," he said. "You figure it has to pay off."

The Blue Devils were scheduled to host Suburban League foe Nordonia Dec. 20. Results were not available at press time.

Tallmadge is set to entertain Cuyahoga Falls Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m.

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