AVON LAKE — Believing can be a powerful thing.
After a couple of tough losses to Brecksville and Berea in overtime early in the year, Avon Lake’s defense-first mentality paid huge dividends Friday as the Shoremen allowed just six first-half points and went on to hammer Amherst 52-27 in Southwestern Conference play.
“Our kids have completely bought in to playing defense,” said Shoremen coach Eric Smith, whose team was giving up just 46 points per game before Friday night. “They go hard in practice and the two weeks we had off over Christmas break, we challenged them to go even harder on defense.
“Sometimes you have to lose a couple close ones to figure out how to win. That’s a young group out there and, other than Jimmy (Hessel), none of them really played varsity last year. They’re learning how to win and are believing in themselves.”
Avon Lake’s (5-3, 2-2) hard work after winning the Lorain County Holiday Tournament paid immediate dividends as the Shoremen led 12-4 after the first quarter and 27-6 at halftime.
The Avon Lake defense converted eight first-half turnovers into 10 points with most coming in transition and from a variety of players.
The Shoremen spread their scoring out among 10 players, none who ended up in double digits.
Six-foot-seven Mitch Gabanic and Brad Hamilton paced Avon Lake with nine points each and were followed closely by Christian Jones and Mitch McManaman, who had seven apiece.
“During practice we work on getting the ball around and getting off a lot of shots,” Jones said. “When it comes to the games, we’re passing well to get guys open looks.”
Amherst’s only field goal of the first quarter came at the 3:22 mark when Nick Glowacki (eight points) knocked down a 3-pointer. Matt Kneisel had the only bucket for Amherst in the second quarter, scoring on the first shot of the period at the 6:57 mark.
The Comets (5-4, 1-3) finished the first half hitting just 2-of-19 (11 percent) and were just 9-of-40 (23 percent) for the game. Their best shooting came from behind the 3-point arc where they hit 4-of-17 (24 percent) attempts.
Adam Srnis opened the second half with a 3-pointer for Amherst, but Avon Lake outscored the Comets 17-3 from there to take a 44-12 lead into the final quarter.
“We really didn’t let them have any easy buckets tonight,” Gabanic said. “They (Amherst) are an outside shooting team and we had a hand in their face on almost all of their shots tonight.”
Comets coach John Srnis was pretty matter-of-fact about what his team needs to do going forward.
“We just didn’t score and froze up against them defensively,” he said. “Our guys just don’t realize what it takes to compete in this league. We may stumble on it here and there, but once we get in the league we have to do this playing five-on-five.
“When a team plays good defense, we just can’t make one pass and take a shot. We took some bad shots and they would get the rebound and go the other way and score some easy baskets.”
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avon Lake 52, Amherst 27
AMHERST (27): Adam Srnis 3-0 9, Nick Glowacki 3-1 8, Matt Kneisel 1-0 2, Rees Rua 1-1 3, Anthony Eliopoulos 1-0 2, Garrett Klekota 0-3 3. Totals 9-5 27.
AVON LAKE (52): Mitch McManaman 3-0 7, Joe Pappas 1-0 2, Jake Aiello 1-0 2, Christian Jones 2-2 7, Jimmy Hessel 3-0- 6, Mitch Gabanic 4-1 9, Jace Russell 2-0 6, Seth Muck 1-0 2, Brad Hamilton 3-2 9, Ben Oxley 1-0 2. Totals 21-5 52.
Amherst 4 2 6 15 — 27
Avon Lake 12 15 15 8 — 52
Three-point goals: Amherst 4-17 (Srnis 3, Glowacki), Avon Lake 5-15 (McManaman, Jones, Russell 2, Hamilton); Field goals: Amherst 9-40 (23 percent), Avon Lake 21-43 (49 percent); Free throws: Amherst 5-10 (50 percent), Avon Lake 5-10 (50 percent); Rebounds: Amherst 30, Avon Lake 30; Turnovers: Amherst 10, Avon Lake 5.
Junior varsity: Avon Lake, 39-35