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Busy Tigers outlast Dragons

HOWLAND — People have learned to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps some have even accomplished things they didn’t think were possible.

After the Howland Tigers make a trip to Canfield today to take on the Cardinals, they will complete their 22-game regular season and move on to the tournament at Lakeview on Tuesday.

“We’re going to get all 22 games in,” Howland coach Dan Bubon said. “In a 47-day span. I don’t know that anybody else has done that in Trumbull County. I’m proud of these kids because they just want to keep playing.”

First, the Tigers defeated Niles 52-41 in their final home game of the year on Friday. It was actually the third day in row Howland played a game.

“It was a good win,” Bubon said. “It was our third game in three nights. Tomorrow will be four in four nights. We’ve never done that before. We’ll probably never do it again.”

It didn’t appear as though Howland suffered from fatigue as it built a 14-9 lead after one quarter. Gabe Badea pulled down an offensive board and finished with a put-back. Matt Kozak had a big rejection inside the paint for Niles, but Jordan Sperling (10 points) nailed a 3-pointer as the Tigers took the lead.

The Red Dragons played well in the second quarter and knotted up the score, 22-22, at halftime. Doug Foster and Jacob Eakin (team-high 9 points apiece) each made one from downtown. Foster had a nice give to Dylan McConnell, who finished with a lay-in, and Niles took the lead for a moment before heading to the locker room tied.

“The second half we couldn’t buy a bucket,” Niles coach Doug Foster said. “We scored eight points in the third. Three days in a row for Howland. Hats off to them. They played well.

“We’ve struggled all year to put the ball in the basket. Tonight was no different. We’ve played 12 games. Tomorrow (Saturday) we finish up the regular season at Lakeview. Then, we’ll get ready for the tournament at Struthers on Tuesday.”

The Tigers pulled away, in the third, and took a 39-30 advantage to the fourth quarter. David Manios made one from behind the arc. Ben Bronson passed it to DeRon Burke (game-high 11 points). Burke completed an and-one, and Bronson was just as happy as Burke as he yelled, “Yes!,” in approval.

Bronson snuck inside for a rebound, and a lay-up, and Bobby Sullivan finished off the third quarter with a huge put-back at the buzzer.

Kross Naples had a nice finger-roll in the fourth for Niles, but Burke helped seal the victory at the free-throw line. He went 4-for-4 down the stretch for Howland.

Finding a way to play all of the games on the schedule hasn’t been the only adjustment the Tigers have had to make this season. They’ve also gotten back on track after losing their leading scorer, junior Anthony Massuci, for the season with a torn meniscus. Massucci was averaging 18.7 points per game and 8.0 rebounds before the injury.

“Three weeks ago, when Anthony Massucci got hurt, we struggled bad afterwards,” Bubon said. “Everyone made a commitment to play as much as we can and get better. We’ve gotten better. Four games in a row now that we’ve played a lot better. I’m happy with that.

“Hopefully, we can do it one more time tomorrow and take it into the tournament. We were in a low spot. With all of those games on top of each other, it could have been bad for a while. It’s been a nice turnaround.”

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