Handling the pressure: Lordstown hands Bristol third-straight loss

LORDSTOWN – The Bristol Panthers won’t be confused for the music group Queen and singer David Bowie.

Yet, the Lordstown Red Devils knew they would find themselves “Under Pressure.”

In preparation for Friday’s game where Bristol backcourt players swarm faster than bees around honey, Lordstown’s junior varsity simulated the Panthers’ presence during practice.

“We went through practice and we had seven JV players on our five guys to simulate Bristol’s guards,” Lordstown’s Nick Johnson said. “They’re always playing hard and put on good pressure, but I had faith in our guards bringing the ball up court. I knew they could handle it.”

The host Red Devils didn’t wilt under the pressure and beat the Panthers, 58-49.

In past games, Lordstown felt weighted coming out of the locker room at halftime.

Friday, things were different. The third quarter belonged to the Red Devils as Lordstown handed Bristol its third straight loss.

Lordstown went on a 13-0 run to start the third quarter and pulled away from the Panthers (10-4, 4-3 Northeastern Athletic Conference, Stripes Division).

“We really wanted to come out and match their energy in the third quarter,” Lordstown coach Brian Force said. “(Bristol coach Craig) Giesy’s team just plays so hard. We knew we had to come out and match their intensity.”

Lordstown (8-5, 7-2) amassed a 30-23 lead on Preston Sutton’s 3-pointer.

But it was Johnson’s inside presence that took over after halftime. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Red Devils outrebounded the Panthers, 38-23.

“We’ve won lately by getting in the paint, whether it’s Nick Johnson and we’ve had our other forward play well, or even off the dribble drive,” Force said. “Just attacking the paint opens up everything for us. They’re really buying into it.

“Nick is doing a great job finishing around the rim. He was a big part of this win for us.”

Giesy said Johnson is one of the best big men in the conference.

“Nick is arguably the best big in the league,” Giesy said.

Jake Jones came up big in his own right for the Red Devils with 12 points and 14 rebounds. The Lordstown guard found ways to slice through the Bristol interior defense.

“At halftime we realized when we drive, everybody collapsed on the ball,” Jones said. “They don’t have the size that we do, so our big man is usually wide open. Even if they take him away, we have that kick out.

“Our coach is pounding, not taking transition 3s, transition jump shots. Just get to the paint and realizing what we have.”

Bristol quickly countered with an 11-4 run to cut the Lordstown lead to 35-34 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Panthers’ surge didn’t last long as Sutton had a couple of early assists to help pad the Lordstown lead. The Red Devils outscored the Panthers 16-4 to take a 51-38 lead on Sutton’s two free throws on a one-and-one. He scored all of his 12 points in the second half.

“Preston is a scorer, but his willingness for him to share the ball and allow other guys to score for us is huge,” Force said. “We talk about playing as a family. Who cares who gets the credit? Just share the ball. We spread it out. Against pressure, that’s how you have to play.”

Bristol shot 15 of 53 in the game, while Lordstown was 20 of 42 from the floor.

“They started knocking down some shots, getting to the rim,” Giesy said. “We got some good looks. We didn’t knock them down. The game changed a little. We put our heads down, felt sorry for ourselves.

“They put their chin up and took advantage of it and beat us.”

Bristol tried to chip into Lordstown’s lead late in the fourth quarter as Johnny Simcox and Brandon Lee hit 3 pointers in the final minute to close the gap to 57-49. Lee led all scorers with 25 points, the only Bristol scorer in double figures.

“He can’t carry the load by himself,” Giesy said. “We’re looking for someone else to get that 15-16 point game for us. We’re struggling to find him right now.”

Lordstown, which made 9 of 14 free throws in the final quarter, held off any thoughts of a Bristol comeback.

“That’s what holds that lead,” Force said. “We had some games against (Chalker) where we didn’t make those free throws. That game got really ugly late and we almost lost it.”

For Lordstown, the finishing touches on Friday’s game came with the beginning fourth-quarter push and overcoming Bristol’s pressure defense.

“We didn’t accept being trapped,” said Force, whose team hosts Maplewood on Tuesday. “Our kids were smart, made some good decisions against great pressure. Bristol is so well-coached and come at you so hard. I thought we matched their intensity.”