NEWTON FALLS - For the first quarter-plus of Tuesday night's game between Newton Falls and Grand Valley, the Mustangs were looking pretty good.
Grand Valley led by two in the second quarter, but the Tigers went on a 36-3 run from that point until the end of the third quarter and rolled to a 57-34 non-conference victory.
"Anytime you have a big run, you've got to have great defense," Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. "We started to make some shots. Beginning of the second half, we pressured them a little bit and got a lot of turnovers and some easy ones. It came mostly from our defense creating turnovers, creating easy shots."
It was the fourth consecutive victory for Newton Falls (11-9), which is closing the regular season on a hot streak.
Leading the run were Ozzie Hawkins, who scored 11 of his game-high 18 points during the streak, and Dale Kernen, who chipped in with eight of his 16.
Hawkins scored consecutive baskets off steals that gave the Tigers a 24-12 lead at halftime. He scored again in the third quarter for a 32-15 lead that forced Grand Valley into a timeout with 5:07 left in the period.
Grand Valley (3-16) coach Luke Strohm agreed that it was the Tigers' strong defense that was the key.
"Their defense sparks everything," he said. "Their defense is just phenomenal. Even when we were able to get the looks, they weren't true, clean looks. That's a credit to their defense.
"They did a good job of stepping up starting in the second quarter. They moved the ball well, they attacked the bucket very well and our guys didn't move our feet on defense."
Newton Falls had an 18-0 run during its 36-3 spurt and led 46-15 heading into the fourth quarter.
Even though his team suffered a blowout loss, Strohm said the Mustangs do have some positives to point to.
"I was extremely happy with our first quarter and being able to contain an offense like Newton Falls' to six points," he said. "I was very happy with the looks we got and even into the second quarter I was very happy with the looks that we got."
Sembach said Newton Falls got off to a slow start this season but is now in position to have a strong tournament run.
"We're really progressing at this point and getting better, game by game. The one thing we did not do well today that we have been doing much better, is shoot the ball. I hope today is more of an off night. We had very few turnovers, played hard on defense, we rebounded the ball. We are progressing as I want heading into the tournament.
"We dug ourselves a nice hole at the beginning of the year. We lose a lot of close games. Hopefully the tide's turning for us and hopefully we can put together a nice streak heading into tournament time."