Second-half surge lifts McDonald past Lordstown

LORDSTOWN – With McDonald tied going into halftime against Lordstown, Blue Devils’ coach Jeff Rasile wasn’t too happy with his players, having let the Red Devils claw back from multiple seven-point deficits.

Whatever he told his players at halftime, it seemed to light a fire under one in particular – forward Kenny Greaver. The 6-foot-4 senior went off for 17 of his 21 points and 14 of his game-high 18 rebounds in the second half to help the Blue Devils pull away from the Red Devils, 85-72.

Rasile said the effort from Greaver in the second half was exactly what the type of effort McDonald (5-2) needs from him.

“Kenny had an absolutely rotten first half,” Rasile said. “He came to practice this week, and he just walked around the whole week. It showed in the first half. In the second half, he came out and started doing things the way he’s supposed to. Kenny’s an animal, but he’s got to go out there and play like an animal. That’s what we expect from Kenny.

“The first half for Kenny, it was unacceptable.”

Perhaps the reason for Rasile’s assessment stemmed from the play of Lordstown’s Nick Johnson in the first half. Johnson accounted for more than 50 percent of the offensive output by the Red Devils (2-4), scorching the Blue Devils for 24 points through two quarters.

“The kid’s a great player,” Greaver said of Johnson. “He works hard, and I came out and kind of played lackadaisical in the first half. That’s on me.”

Many of Johnson’s early points started with the Lordstown ballhandlers breaking down McDonald’s press and setting up 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 fast-break situations, which ended up in his hands on the low-block often.

To go along with these finishes, he also picked up a couple of putback buckets, making him a thorn in the Blue Devils’ side.

“Nick has to score and rebound a ton for us to be as good as we can be,” Lordstown coach Brian Force said. “In this particular game, though, Nick was the recipient of us doing a good job up front against their pressure. We really wanted to attack them coming out of the traps, and I think we were able to do that and get numbers up the court. We could get Nick the ball in those situations, and he’s a good finisher around the rim.”

Greaver and the Blue Devils changed their tactics in the third quarter, electing to set up a halfcourt offense and pound the ball into the low block on offense instead of the usual run-and-gun style. With Greaver becoming a force in the post, Johnson got into foul trouble trying to defend, as the senior picked up three fouls in the third to give him four. The Blue Devils took advantage of Johnson not being on the floor to go on a 10-1 run over the final 4 minutes to take a 10-point lead.

Then, in the fourth quarter, Johnson fouled out at the 6:48 mark on a drive in the lane by Anthony Pugh, and the Blue Devils pulled away from that point.

“In the third quarter, we said we wanted to keep pounding the block, get him in foul trouble, and we were able to do that,” Rasile said. “It changed the whole game when he’s on the bench versus when he’s in the game.”

For Rasile, the win wasn’t pretty, but he said any win is a good win for this year’s ball club.

“Years previous, we obviously had some good basketball teams that would come in here and lay the hammer down,” Rasile said. “Our kids don’t have that same mindset, so every victory is a good victory for us. Every struggle is going to build for the future. It teaches the kids how to play through some adversity.”