Canton South maintains sole possession of first place in the NBC after rolling past Salem.
It was the marquee game in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference on Tuesday night.
As it rolled on inside Red Ash Gymnasium, one thing was clear: It would take a monumental effort by the Salem Quakers — or anyone — to beat the Canton South Wildcats.
The first-place Wildcats grabbed a double digit in the second quarter and beat Salem 68-44 to maintain control of their own destiny in the NBC race. The Quakers had a chance to move into a tie for the league lead, but South’s dominance on both ends of the court may have knocked Salem out of the title picture.
South (17-2, 10-2) has won six in a row and now holds a 11⁄2-game lead over Marlington in the NBC.
“This is the best win we’ve had,” Wildcats guard Armand Fontes said. “I honestly believe that. I just felt good because everybody put something into it.”
Fontes scored a game-high 18 points, Kyle Deckerd and Trey Taylor finished with 16 apiece and Austin Jolliff poured in 10 to lead the Wildcats, who handed the Quakers (13-5, 8-4) to their third loss in four games. Deckerd also grabbed six rebounds.
Head coach Frank Spotleson couldn’t agree more with Fontes.
“We played four solid quarters of defense on a very good basketball team,” Spotleson said. “We learned some things about ourselves as far as sticking to a plan and battling for the entire ballgame. I couldn’t be happier with how we were able to finish at the basket time and time again and still find time to get that 3-point basket that was a little bit of a nail every once in a while.
“It was probably our best performance to date.”
South’s work on defense set the tone for the night. The Wildcats came out flying and held the Quakers to 7 of 27 shooting from the (26 percent) in the first half.
Salem’s Ryan Bush really had to earn his team-high 14 points. The senior guard, who scored a single-game school record 47 points this season, was held to 4 of 14 shooting from the field.
“Bush is a tremendous player,” Spotleson said. “All he needs is just a little crack, a little opening and he can score in bunches. We needed to make sure we had three sets of eyes on him, the guy who’s defending him and both gap guys on each side to keep him from getting that open space.
“We rotated some guys on him to keep our guys fresh and everybody stepped up and responded.”
Salem cut a 19-point deficit to 32-18 at halftime, but the Quakers could never fully recover.
“Once you get yourself in a hole, you kind of speed things up,” Salem head coach Rich Hart said. “Normally we like to go fast, but not quite at that pace.
Page 2 of 2 - “South played a super game and took advantage of our mistakes. ... They did a nice job defensively and did a good job on Ryan. We didn’t execute well enough in our half court.”
Deckerd hit four 3s for the Wildcats, while Fontes buried two. South shot 47 percent (28 of 59) from the field.
The Quakers were the first of three big hurdles the Wildcats had to clear to claim the NBC championship. Wins over Carrollton on Friday and Alliance next week will assure South of an undisputed title.
“We control our own destiny for the first time since I’ve been in high school,” Fontes said. “The only people who can mess it up is us.
“Coach always tells us not to think about winning a league championship because when you think about that, you lose sight of your next opponent. We don’t want to do that, so we’re going to take it one game at a time.”