Without the services of Rosel Hurley, Kash Blackwell, Jimmie Pope, Mel Leach and David Shack, a road opener against St. John’s — which boasts a candidate for Mr. Basketball in Marc Loving — had the makings of a blowout. But the Red Raiders led at halftime before ultimately falling 55-41.
Hurley, Blackwell and Pope were suspended for disciplinary reasons, Leach and Shack were nursing injuries.
“I was very proud of them,” Shaker Heights coach Danny Young said. “I think our zone slowed them down a little. We kept Marc Loving at bay, but in the fourth quarter they (pulled away). But the entire game until the fourth we were within single digits.
“Now we’ve got our guys back and we’re good to go Tuesday.”
Carrying the load for the Red Raiders was sophomore Esa Ahmad who scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. He went toe-to-toe with Loving who scored 20. Austin Gardner scored 21 for St. John’s.
Freshman point guard Keith Griffin was thrust into a bigger role in his debut. While he only scored nine points, his coach praised his decision making.
“I thought he valued the ball,” Young said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of turnovers. We handled the press very well. He tried his best to get the ball to Esa as much as he could, which was our game plan. He did a good job defending Gardner, going against a senior like that he had his hands full.
"But I think overall, as a freshman, in a hostile environment I thought he did a pretty good job.”
Returning home on Dec. 11 against Cuyahoga Falls feels like the season tip-off with Hurley, Blackwell and Pope returning from their suspensions. Coach Young doesn’t suspect Leach will be back from injury. The game serves as the Red Raiders' introduction to the Northeast Ohio Conference, albeit a crossover game (Cuyahoga Falls is in the River Division, Shaker in the Valley).
“I think the guys are pretty excited,” Young said. “This is ultimately their first game together. I think they’ll be pumped to start in front of their home crowd.”
Tigers rebound from tough loss
For a young team, even as talented as Cleveland Heights, drawing St. Edward to open the season on Nov. 30 was a daunting task. But the Tigers held their own in a 69-63 loss — even taking a 14-point lead with 3:32 left in the third.
St. Edward, however, closed out the third with a 14-4 run and then outscored Cleveland Heights 21-11 in the fourth.
“That’s an experienced team we were playing, who went to the Final Four with three starters back,” Tigers coach Andy Suttell said. “They knew how to respond down the stretch and we’re a team that’s kind of figuring that stuff out right now. We’re disappointed because it was a game that we controlled over three quarters.
“In saying that, a close loss to Ed’s at their place, there’s a lot of positives to take away from it.”
Marcus Bagley led the Tigers with 19 points, Donald Jones scored 12 and Dairyon Davis added 10.
The Tigers took out their frustration on Lakeside with a 99-47 win on Dec. 4. Dondre McDowell led the team with 19 points, Melon Barnes had 15 and Bagley scored 13.
“Marcus (Bagley) is just a great athlete,” Suttell said. “He’s a kid that gets it done and does whatever we ask. He has the capability to be that go-to scorer that we’re going to need in some big games this year.”
The Tigers begin Lake Erie League play when they host Euclid tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Panthers are a traditional rival of Cleveland Heights and the Tigers will try and utilize their depth to speed up Euclid.
“Euclid is a much improved team,” Suttell said. “Obviously a big rivalry game, but we’re ready. For most of our opponents it’s going to be about getting the game in the pace we want to play.
"Euclid is not going to want us to control how fast the game is played.”
Bison start season with win
The Bison opened their season with a 67-57 win on Dec. 1 against rival Orange. Freshman Ronald Jones had a solid debut with 11 points and eight rebounds.
“I was happy with the way he played,” Beachwood coach Jason Pecjak said. “In that kind of atmosphere, with a packed house and a rivalry game, you just didn’t know what to expect. He just really answered the bell with eight points in the first half. He came right off the bench and gave us a spark.”
Junior Julio Stevens also scored 11 points while junior point guard John Davis III led the team with 21 points and dished out four assists.
“It was probably the worst shooting game he’s had since he’s been at Beachwood,” Pecjak said. “I think it was just some first game nerves, but he did what he had to do. It was a quiet 21.”
Beachwood has a long layoff between games, with Chagrin Valley Conference rival Independence on Dec. 12. The Bison will look to push the tempo and get aggressive in transition. The time off will also allow the Bison to improve their free-throw shooting, which Pecjak noted was a problem in the Orange loss.
“My theory is always I want us to get us playing our best come February going into March,” Pecjak said. “We were right around 60 percent (on free throws). We’ll address it.”