By Jim Horvath
The Westlake boys basketball team has had more than its fair share of frustrating losses this season.
But if last Friday night’s 55-47 win over North Olmsted was any indication, the Demons may have put some of that frustration behind them. The win evened their overall record at 4-4 and kept them in the early stages of the Southwestern Conference race at 3-1.
“We made some shots, and we went six of six from the free throw line down the stretch,” said Westlake head coach Bob Patton, whose team used an 8-0 run in the final two minutes to break open the closely-contested contest.
“When you’re young like that, you’ve got to sometimes get over that hump of finishing games,” Patton said. “We didn’t do that against a couple of teams early on. We didn’t do it against Avon Lake, and we had a 6-point lead late, but we got a little tentative, didn’t execute and just got tight.
“We did the same thing against Bay, so it was really good to see our guys step up tonight and make some plays. The guys didn’t play afraid, they just kept on playing,” he added.
North Olmsted led only once in the game when Kristian Cross scored inside to make it 25-24 with 1:20 left in the first half. That lead, however, was short-lived as Westlake senior Ahmad Hamdan scored inside for a 26-25 advantage at halftime.
Westlake managed to lead by as many as six points, 20-14, in the first half after junior guard Max Rodriguez drilled a 3-pointer to close out the first quarter. But every time the Demons would build a lead, the Eagles would come right back and threaten to take the lead.
They never did.
“I think maybe its being a little bit too anxious and trying to do too much as individuals instead of as a unit,” said Eagles first-year head coach Joe smith, whose team pulled to within two points five times in the second half.
“I think it was 47-45 when Marc Remy took it down the middle, and that layup just didn’t fall,” Smith recalled. “Maybe if that shot falls it changes the momentum a little bit. But for whatever reason, we just couldn’t get that basket.”
Down 31-25 early in the third quarter, North Olmsted jumped right back in it on a 3-pointer from senior Nolan Escher. Escher later hit another trey to make it even closer at 37-35, then fellow senior Dan Roberto scored inside to make it 39-37, Westlake, heading into the fourth quarter.
A spinning jumper from Cross drew the Eagles within two points yet again early in the fourth, then a rebound for two by junior forward Darvin Freeman made it 45-43. With 4:35 left in the game, Patton called a timeout.
Westlake responded with a score inside from sophomore guard Shawn Turk to make it 47-43. North Olmsted answered yet again when Cross nailed two free throws with 2:54 left. The Eagles, however, weren’t able to score again during the next two and a half minutes.
Meanwhile, Westlake went to work. Junior guard Ezzat Assad scored inside, then North Olmsted turned it over on an offensive foul call. Senior Jason Labroo fueled the Demon run with a pair of made freebies with :53.6 left in the game to make it 51-45.
Again, the Eagles were unable to get a score at their end and were forced to foul to stop the clock. Turk, shooting in the double bonus, made both of his free throws with :35.8 left, then Rodriguez made a pair with just over 33 seconds to go. That made it 55-45, Westlake. A Freeman layup before time expired accounted for the final score.
For the game, Turk led all scorers with 16 points, while Labroo added 16 and junior Grant Gase 12. North Olmsted got 14 from Cross, 11 from Freeman and eight from Escher, but it wasn’t enough to offset the Eagles’ 25 turnovers for the game.
“One of the things we were concerned about early on this season was our guard play,” Smith said. “We wondered how it would develop, and it has. We’ve got a junior guard in Remy and a sophomore guard in Jake Lima. Both of them haven’t seen much varsity action until this year.
“There’s a lot of pressure on those guys because we’re trying to pick up the tempo, plus teams are trying to press us because they think that will create opportunities for themselves. And sometimes we try to force things, and that causes some turnovers. We had over 20 turnovers tonight, and obviously that’s too many.
“If we can cut down on just a few of those, especially later in the game, maybe it’s a different outcome,” he added.
Not helping the Eagle effort was the fact that junior post player Khaled Oudeh was ruled out for the season with a broken finger. He suffered the injury during the Midpark game over the Christmas break, played with it against Valley Forge and had surgery soon afterward, according to Smith.
North Olmsted, which has lost three straight, fell to 3-4 overall and 2-1 in the SWC heading into last night’s game at Lakewood. The Eagles resume SWC play Friday night when they host Berea.
Westlake travels to Brecksville this Friday night.
“Another big thing tonight is that we got some defensive stops,” Patton said. “We got some big rebounds too, and we did a nice job passing the ball.
“We’ve played them seven times since I’ve been here, and every game has come down to the last 45 seconds,” he said. “Even though they have a new coach, it doesn’t matter. Nothing has changed in that regard.”
Assad had six rebounds for the Demons, while Freeman had seven for the Eagles.