by Rob Barrone
Stow -- Defense against defense.
In recent years, when the Hudson and Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball teams meet, defense takes center state.
Dec. 13 proved to be no exception.
The Explorers dropped their first game of the season after losing a 41-33 decision to the Bulldogs at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
With the loss, Hudson, which finished 3-0 against Stow last season, dropped to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division. The Bulldogs improved to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the division.
Points were again at a premium as Stow rallied from a 19-14 halftime deficit.
In their previous four meetings, the two teams have scored an average of just 73.75 points. This one was right on pace as both teams valued each and every possession like it was their last.
"They [the Explorers] play a very good zone defense, which makes it very difficult to score," Bulldogs head coach Dave Close said.
"But I think we play pretty decent defense too. Points are hard to come by, so you almost have to be patient on offense."
"When you have two teams that are good fundamental teams, every possession is a battle," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said. "We know each other very well. They [the Bulldogs] are a good defensive team. That's why their games are always in the 30s.
"They play good defense and we are pretty proud of the way we play defense. There is no secret formula. It comes down to who can execute and play. [Dec. 13], it came down to a few mistakes and they capitalized."
Stow's defense forced the Explorers into 18 turnovers. The Bulldogs lost the ball just nine times on the evening.
Stow's defense and its free-throw shooting down the stretch (13 of 14 at the line in the fourth quarter and 14 of 18 for the game compared to the Explorers' 2-of-3 shooting at the stripe) was the difference. The two went hand in hand as Hudson's turnovers forced the Explorers to chase and foul at the end.
While the Bulldogs' 8-of-8 performance at the line in the final 77 seconds iced the win, Stow gained the momentum with a strong defensive effort in the third quarter. The Bulldogs outscored Hudson 10-4 in the period.
The Explorers turned the ball over four times in the quarter, including a pair of offensive fouls, and shot just 1 of 9 from the floor.
Stow converted 3 of 7 three-point attempts in the period. Matt Beech, who finished with a game-high 17 points, gave the Bulldogs the lead (24-23) for good with 54 seconds left in the third.
Hudson stayed within striking distance despite seven fourth-quarter turnovers. The Explorers pounded the ball inside to senior Derek Schwarz. The 6-foot-5 post scored all of his eight points (to go along with his game high eight rebounds) in the final eight minutes.
Leading 31-29, Stow forced a turnover and got a driving one-hander from Beech with 1:42 to play.
Following another Hudson turnover, Jacob Williams converted both ends of a one-and-one opportunity to give the Bulldogs a 35-29 advantage with 1:17 left.
Beech and Williams each made all four of their free-throw attempts down the stretch to seal the deal for Stow.
Brendan Burdett carried the Explorers in the first half, thanks to his three-point shooting. Burdett made a trio of three-pointers in the first half and finished with a team-high 15 points.
"I think Brendan caught them [the Bulldogs] a little off guard," Brink said. "I don't think they knew he was as good as he is. We were fortunate to get him some open looks in the first half. He got us off to a great start before they cranked up the defense in the second half."
Beech led Stow with a game-high 17 points and Williams added 10 points. Hudson had a 21-12 advantage on the glass.
The Explorers were scheduled to host NOC rival Brunswick Dec. 17 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium. Results were not available at press time.
Hudson is set to visit Youngstown East Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m.