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Tigers do enough to win

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Howland senior Jordan Sperling, right, drives to the basket while being defended by Fitch’s Dan Evans.

HOWLAND — After a 1-5 start and five losses in a row, the Howland Tigers look like they’ve found their footing, winning their second straight, holding on to beat Austintown Fitch, 49-46, on Friday night.

The game was a slugfest in the paint as neither team hit a shot from beyond the arc.

“An old-school football game broke out, but I’m proud of how tough we were,” Tigers coach Dan Bubon said. “I’m proud of how tough we were and I’m proud of how we executed in the fourth quarter with a lead. It’s two games in a row now that we’ve had a lead in the fourth quarter and made teams come out and guard us and play for layups and foul shots, so that I’m very happy about.

“Our defense I’m ecstatic about. Hopefully we grow a little offensively. You can’t always win games in the 40s, but when they’re there to win, you execute to win them and we did.”

The Tigers were led on the scoresheet by Anthony Massucci, who tallied 18 points.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Howland’s Anthony Massucci attempts to put a shot up while being heavily defended by Cam Smith of Fitch. Massucci led the Tigers with 18 points.

Howland is coming off a week in which the Tigers lost four games, each by less than 10 points. Being on the winning end of two close games in a row has Bubon believing his team has hit a turning point.

“It feels great,” Bubon said. “I’ve never had a week like last week. I never had a week with four games, and we lost by 1, 4, 9 and 2. So every one of them we had a chance in the fourth quarter. That’s heartbreaking. Then we come back and beat a very good Newton Falls team who was undefeated and then to beat a very good Fitch team here tonight, we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

The game was back-and-forth for 32 minutes, with neither team able to establish a stable lead. Fitch held a 24-22 lead at the half, thanks to 16 first-half points from leading scorer Todd Simons. He finished with 23 points.

As the Howland defense began to shift heavier onto Simons in the second half, junior Allen Underwood was able to capitalize, scoring seven points and finishing with 11.

The Tigers look to keep that momentum going as they face Ashtabula Lakeside tonight. Howland has played Lakeside multiple times in the past, and Bubon expects a challenge from the 6-1 Dragons.

“One of my assistant coaches is in quarantine right now and his job is a scouting report, so he’s home right now putting together a 10-page scouting report for me,” Bubon said. “He’s ridiculously good. … We don’t see them a lot anymore. From what little I’ve seen, they’re extremely athletic. We’re going to have to really keep them in front of us and that’ll give us a chance.”

Fitch (5-7, 2-2), looks to improve on finishing as it was sunk by missed opportunities that built up over the course of the game.

“When you struggle putting the ball in the basket, I don’t care who you play, it’s going to be a dogfight,” Falcons coach Brian Beany said. “We had a lot of opportunities to score, we just couldn’t do it. We kind of did it in spurts here and there. We were starting to get stops, but then we weren’t converting those stops into makes.”

The Falcons get back to action Tuesday at Louisville.

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