Lutheran West continues to turn season around
By Dan Gilles
In Alan Januzzi’s first three games as Lutheran West’s head boys basketball coach, the Longhorns suffered three straight losses.
Suddenly, it appears that the light has gone on for Lutheran West, and things have started to click.
Last Tuesday’s lopsided 82-37 non-conference victory over Open Door in Elyria – a school that Januzzi coached to the Division IV state final four in 2003 – gave Lutheran West three straight victories to even its record to 3-3 (2-2 in the Patriot Athletic Conference) prior to last Friday’s key matchup against Clearview.
Januzzi, coaching his first game at Open Door’s gym since he left the Christian school several years ago, said the return was definitely a sentimental one.
“It’s special (to be back here),” Januzzi said. “Open Door’s a very special place to me. I had a great experience here. The people here were so good to me, and (principal) Darrell Dunckel is a still a very good friend of mine.
“It’s sentimental, that’s for sure. It’s special to be able to come here and coach in this gym. A lot of good memories here. It was fun.”
Januzzi looked down at the gray tile floor of Open Door’s gym and remembered helping lay it out during his early years as the Patriots’ coach.
The banners commemorating Open Door’s run to the Division IV state final four in 2003 still hang, and there were a few Open Door fans who came up to Januzzi before and after the game to shake his hand and say hello.
“The floor still looks good,” Januzzi said. “I remember it took us 20 minutes to put it together. It came in boxes, and it was like a Lego project.”
The 82 points scored are a season high, and the 45-point margin of victory is the Longhorns’ largest after playing in several close games.
The Longhorns started the season with a 61-49 loss at home to Cuyahoga Heights, and followed that with PAC losses to conference favorite Keystone at home (67-64) and at Firelands on the road (67-59).
“We’ve played well lately, but I thought we played well in our first three games,” Januzzi said. “Cuyahoga Heights is a very good team, and we led them the whole way until the last couple of minutes. We played Keystone tough and Keystone’s a great team.
“Firelands, we were up 11 in the middle of the third quarter, and then we went cold. Firelands is a good team. I was an assistant coach there last year, and they’ve got all of their guys back. I think they are going to do well in this conference.”
Lutheran West got off the schneid with a 68-60 win over Buckeye at home on Dec. 16, and followed that with a 57-44 win over archrival Fairview at home five days before Christmas. The Open Door game is the team’s first in 14 days.
“We got good wins against Buckeye and Fairview,” Januzzi said. “Everything that we’re doing is new. Our fast break and our defenses are all new. The goal is to continue to get better every game, and I’m pretty comfortable in saying that I’ve seen that.
“Hopefully, we can continue to do that, especially with another tough conference opponent on the horizon in Clearview.”
Last Tuesday, the Longhorns opened up a 22-8 lead after the first quarter, thanks to a 9-2 run to start the game. Then, after Open Door started connecting on its 3-pointers to score 19 points in the third quarter, Lutheran West made sure there would be no comeback by holding the Patriots scoreless for the entire fourth quarter, while scoring 29 points to put the game well out of reach.
“Our kids ran the floor extremely well (Tuesday),” Januzzi said. “Chris Scott ran our fast-break well. Dan Hillenbrand ran the floor extremely well. Everybody contributed. We tried to keep the pressure on them.
“I’ve got to compliment Open Door. I’ve got to compliment those kids and Coach (Todd) Wright. I thought they did a good job of handling our pressure. I thought that they hung tough and battled their way back into the game. Preston Phillips had some nice 3′s (in the third quarter). Definitely a high compliment to them.”
The Patriots (0-6) only shot 3-of-25 in the first half, and two of those field goals were 3-pointers, as Lutheran West increased its lead to 36-18 at halftime. But, all of a sudden, shots began to fall in the third quarter.
Phillips, who led Open Door with 14 points, buried three 3-pointers in a row and sank four of his six attempts from beyond the arc. Jimmy Filko also added one of his two treys during that third quarter and scored seven of his 12 points during that span. Filko’s last bucket, a putback with just over a minute remaining in the third, made it a 48-37 deficit for Open Door and momentum seemed to be on its side.
Little did anyone realize that Filko’s bucket would be the last one scored for any Open Door player for the final nine minutes of the game.
“We work hard at really conditioning our kids and really playing hard and going strong in the fourth quarter,” Januzzi said. “I think it says that that’s been effective. They are getting stronger as the game goes on.
“I think that’s important, especially from a defensive standpoint. And a lot of it was that (our guys) made up some minds that they were going to get some stops down the stretch, and hopefully, that will help us as we get into more games in our conference schedule.”
Along with the five points the Longhorns scored to end the third quarter, their game-ending run was 34-0. They shot 10-of-21 from the floor in the fourth quarter, while holding Open Door to 0-of-14 – 0-of-7 from the 3-point line – and forcing seven turnovers.
Hillenbrand led all scorers with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Shane Elkins added 15 and Ricky Downer had 12 to lead Lutheran West.
Wright, who credited Lutheran West for creating matchup problems with its athleticism and size inside, was honored to be coaching against Januzzi in his return to Open Door.
“Coach Januzzi is fantastic, and he really prepares his teams really well,” Wright said. “He’s very methodical in terms of his game preparation. He really has his kids prepared, and I enjoy coaching against him, much like our kids going up against better competition.
“It was a joy. He does a great job with his kids, and you enjoy coaching against kids that play the game well.”