INDEPENDENCE—With just one returning varsity player Independence head coach Hugh McMahon knew his team would experience some ups and downs this season. The Blue Devils experienced a letdown on Friday in a 33-27 loss to rival Cuyahoga Heights in the first round of the 2014 Joe LaBella Holiday Tournament.
The young Blue Devils rebounded with a 63-46 win over Fairview in the consolation game on Saturday.
“We felt we left one on the table (Friday) night, or out on the court I should say,” McMahon said. “We missed a whole bunch of what we thought were easy shots and we learned from that. We finished it (on Saturday), which is a sign of great progress.”
Independence, which improved to 3-3 with the win over Fairview, led the Warriors by as many as 11 points before settling for a 28-20 lead at the break.
The Warriors opened the third quarter on an 8-1 run to pull to within 29-28 midway through the quarter.
“I think that they came out with more pressure and were more physical in the third quarter and we took a step back but then we responded, which I’m very proud of,” McMahon said.
Senior Daniel Mathews, Independence’s lone returning varsity player, scored eight of his nine points in the first half. His one second half point came two seconds into the third quarter when he hit 1-of-2 free throws after a Fairview technical foul on the opening inbounds pass of the second half.
But Mathews contributed in other ways as the Blue Devils pushed the lead back to 40-33 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I think we get phenomenal leadership from Daniel Mathews,” McMahon said. “I don’t think he knows how valuable he is to the team whether he’s having a good night or not. Tonight he again showed a bunch of leadership.”
With Mathews on the bench, the Blue Devils dominated the final five and a half minutes of play. Freshman Kyle Stefanski scored seven of his team-high 16 points during that stretch and the Blue Devils turned a 45-41 lead into a 17-point rout.
That’s an encouraging sign for the future of the team.
“(Mathews) was down for a little bit in the fourth quarter and the rest of the squad responded,” McMahon said. “That was really the first time this year they felt comfortable and played their game. I’m very proud of a great team win.
“What’s impressive about that is those other guys responded and picked him up. He’s been carrying us all year long. This is the first time that those guys picked him up. I think that bodes well for the future in that we’re becoming more of a team instead of just relying on the one returning starter.”
Junior Nick Brunsman contributed with seven points while junior Bobby Roddy added four in his first start. Junior Matt Terrano pitched in with three points but he also handled the point guard duties in the closing minutes of the game.
“I think Bobby Roddy has been coming off the bench and we put him in as a starter today when one of our guys went down with an injury. He did a phenomenal job,” McMahon said. “Down the stretch, Matt Terrano was our point guard and handled their pressure extremely well considering his diminutive size and did a phenomenal job.”
Independence shot 21-of-41 (57-percent) from the floor and converted 16-of-21 free throws, including 7-of-8 in the final four minutes of the game.
“They finally started feeling it that they can compete against varsity competition,” McMahon said. “Most of those guys played JV last year. That’s what’s really impressive about it. It just shows that we’ve matured so much more in just a few weeks as far as our intensity, our emotion and our belief in each other. I’m very, very proud of the effort. This was the first time this year we started feeling like we can really be a team and do something when we’re playing together with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion and being smart. We can be a nice team.”
The Blue Devils travel to Brecksville-Broadview Heights on Tuesday.
Cuyahoga Heights defeated Valley Forge, 55-41, in the chamionship game.