GREEN Predicting the rest of what has been a chaotic, crazy Federal League boys basketball race is all but impossible, but one thing is clear: the Green Bulldogs have a big-game resume that’s getting better by the day.
The Bulldogs, who earlier this season pulled off their first-ever win over Canton McKinley at the Canton Memorial Field House, have kept that big-game mojo going in the new years with wins against reigning league champion Jackson and now, the previously undefeated Lake Blue Streaks.
Toppling both McKinley and Lake on the road underscores the kind of year it’s been for Green, and veteran head coach Mark Kinsley knows his players have stepped up and delivered in pressure situations.
"Obviously, going into Lake, who coming into the season was picked to compete for the league title, was a big win for our kids," Kinsley said. "I felt played well both ends of the floor and defensively it was one of our better games of the season holding Lake to 25 points through three quarters. For our kids, it was real big for them to beat quality teams and those programs like McKinley, Jackson and Lake are typically not only top teams in our league, but some of top teams in Northeast Ohio, so I think it says a lot about our toughness."
The Lake game was a battle throughout, even after Green suffocated the Blue Streaks defensively, staking themselves to leads of 18-6 after one quarter and 33-15 at the half. The hosts rallied in the fourth quarter, but came up short as the Bulldogs celebrated a win that moved them into a tie for first place in the league with Lake at 5-1.
Kinsley noted that while the wins over Jackson and Lake have provided a boost for the team, the biggest push Green has received in recent weeks has come on the practice floor.
He pointed to games against Stow and Ellet late last year, both of which ended in losses for Green, as the impetus for focusing more in practice. After watching film of those losses and feeling like they simply weren’t playing up to their potential over Christmas break, the Bulldogs made a concerted effort to practice better. "
"The big thing for us now is to worry about today, as cliched as it is. We just say, ‘Let’s have good practices,’ because one of the reasons we’ve been playing well this month is that since first of year, we’ve had some really good practices. That really led into winning those two big games against Jackson and Lake, so hopefully we can keep it going."
The defensive end of the floor has proved to be a big part in the Bulldogs’ improved play in recent weeks, holding Jackson to 64 points and then limiting Lake to 49 on its home court.
The back court, including Kaleb Martin, Devin Limerick, Corey Oswald and others, is the starting point in the Green defensive scheme.
Because there isn’t overwhelming size on the roster and the Bulldogs’ post players often face taller opponents, being able to have a solid first level of defense is even more important. Miles Demusey, Donovan O’Neil and their front court mates are tasked with battling bigger foes and keeping Green competitive on the glass behind the perimeter defense.
"I think it starts with our perimeter defense. We have a number of guys who can get out and pressure the ball and our post guys have really been doing a good job inside battling," Kinsley said. "Most nights we’re outsized and doing a good job of playing position defense on opposing post players makes a big difference."
A rematch with Jackson - this time on the road - and other tough contests remain for Green and keeping its spot at the top of the standings will only get more difficult the closer the end of the season gets, but the idea of big games against tough opponents in hostile settings doesn’t seem to faze these Bulldogs.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB