by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Hudson -- The Explorers' offense was in a funk.
Brunswick's zone defense seemed impenetrable.
Things looked bleak early in the game for the Hudson boys basketball team against Brunswick Dec. 16 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
Trailing 14-2 late in the second quarter, the Explorers desperately need a spark.
They got it from their bench and their increased defensive pressure.
Hudson improved to 3-1 on the season after posting a 36-30 victory over its Northeast Ohio Conference rival.
The Explorers got 14 points from their bench and shut down the Blue Devils (3-2) with a suffocating press.
"Our preparation and execution is something we take pride in, but we were very disappointed in our execution in the first half," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said.
"That was not Hudson basketball. That's something we addressed at halftime. We talked about picking up the pace. Our intensity won the game. We grinded it out."
Brunswick came out in a zone defense that didn't allow three-point shooters Kevin Zullo (six points) or Brendan Burdett (four) to get open looks.
The Blue Devils' defense also stopped penetration or passes inside to Derek Schwarz. Points were real hard to come by with the Explorers' early execution.
Meanwhile, Brunswick spread its five around the 19-foot, 9-inch arc looking for points three at a time and hit the offensive boards hard. All of the Blue Devils' 14 first-half points came after offensive rebounds.
Hudson went scoreless for more than five minutes as it tried to find an answer to the Brunswick zone.
Mitch Guadagni, playing for the first time after an ankle injury he suffered during football season, got the Explorers on the board with a layup off a pass from Schwarz with 2:35 left in the first quarter.
Hudson went another seven scoreless minutes as the Blue Devils' Zach Cebula (eight points on the night) took his turn scoring. Cebula had all of his team's eight points in the second quarter making a pair of threes and scoring on an offensive rebound in the paint as well.
Down 14-2, the Explorers scored the last seven points of the first half.
"It really shows a lot about our team," Schwarz said. "We could have given up being down by 12, but we battled back. As soon as we came out of the locker room, we were all pumped to get out there and do the best we can. It definitely showed."
Junior point-guard Jason Okulovich (a game high nine points) took over the scoring for the Blue Devils in the third quarter draining a pair of treys as Brunswick built its lead back up to eight (20-12).
The tables were turned on the boards as the Blue Devils, who owned a 14-8 advantage on the glass in the first half, couldn't get near a rebound as Hudson began to chip away at the deficit. The Explorers ended with a 23-19 advantage on the boards led by Schwarz with 10.
Zullo connected on a three from the left corner and Schwarz scored back-to-back buckets inside.
Suddenly, it was a game as the Blue Devils' lead was down to one (20-19). In the final minute of the period, the trapping press and the depth of the bench began to pay dividends.
Reserves Ian Laver and Jack Sullivan (six points) scored the final two buckets of the quarter both after Brunswick turnovers. Sullivan's pick and breakaway layup with 58 seconds left gave Hudson its first lead at 23-22.
"We had phenomenal minutes off the bench," Brink said. "Jack Sullivan sparked us defensively. We kept bringing waves of people at them. Our press was phenomenal and our rotation was tremendous. That was picture-perfect defense. On the back end, Derek was making huge defensive plays. His defensive effort was pivotal."
A three by Okulovich opened the scoring in the final frame to temporarily give the Blue Devils the lead again (25-23), but the turnovers and points off the miscues had the Explorers taking control.
Sullivan tied the score at 25-25 taking a backdoor cut feed from Schwarz (team-high eight points). The 6-5 senior post hit a baby hook shot in the lane for a lead Hudson, which lost a 52-29 decision in the junior varsity game, did not relinquish.
"Our defense was superb," Schwarz said. "When coach Brink put us in the full-court trap, I don't think Brunswick was expecting it. Those front guys, Mitch [Guadagni], Chris [Koscho], John [Zuccaro] and Jack [Sullivan] were just great up there."
The Explorers were scheduled to visit Youngstown East Dec. 20. Results were not available at press time.
They are set to host the Hudson Holiday Tournament Dec. 27 and 28. Hudson is scheduled to open tournament play against Streetsboro Dec. 27 at 7:30 p.m.