NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Avon Lake decided to re-focus itself at halftime.
The solution? A heavy dose of Nick Marsh.
The sophomore forward scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half and helped the Shoremen close out North Ridgeville in a 62-55 Southwestern Conference victory played at the North Ridgeville Academic Center because the high school was closed all week thanks to the cold weather.
It was also career win No. 200 for Avon Lake coach Eric Smith.
“At halftime, we talked about pounding it inside,” Marsh said. “We knew we had an advantage on them height and size. We just wanted to pound it inside. Plus it complements with our shooters outside, shooting on the 3-point line when they tried to zone us.”
Both teams were neck-and-neck throughout the first three quarters, with neither leading by more than four points. M.J. Smith had a strong game for the Rangers (6-3, 3-2), scoring 19 points, but was held to 6-of-19 shooting. His strongest quarter came in the second when he scored seven of North Ridgeville’s 13 points.
But the one constant throughout was the size of Avon Lake (6-3, 4-1), which forced the Rangers into some tough shots. The fourth quarter opened with North Ridgeville getting four shots off on one possession, but coming up without a field goal. Overall, the Rangers were held to 37-percent shooting and couldn’t stretch the Shoremen defense from deep, hitting just 4-of-17 3-pointers.
“It’s not all about height, for us it’s all about heart,” M.J. Smith said. “Yeah, they had some height on us, but we’ve got to push back and not take it. They outhustled us and outmuscled us. They just did everything (right) and just got us. We’ve got to work on it in practice.”
Marsh, on the other hand, was money inside the paint, seemingly unstoppable once he got the ball. All his field goals came within five feet of the bucket, as he went 11-of-12 from the field and hit both his free throws. He was held to just four points in the first half, but Avon Lake made a conscious effort to get him the ball out of the locker room.
Marsh scored 10 points in each of the next two quarters — including the first bucket of the half and a stretch when he accounted for eight of the last 12 points to end the third.
“That was something we thought we had,” Eric Smith said. “We thought we could get him the ball down low and score. We also thought with his athleticism we could get him the ball in space and he could get by some guys and get to the basket. That was the focus of what we tried to do, and he then went and got it a couple of times off the glass.”
The Shoremen, though, entered the fourth with just a two-point lead. That changed quickly when Avon Lake opened the quarter on an 8-2 run — including four points from Marsh and four more from Nate Sidloski, who scored five of his 14 points in the final quarter.
That gave Avon Lake the largest lead of the game at eight points. The Shoremen defense limited North Ridgeville to just two field goals — the first coming 1:45 into the quarter and the other a runaway layup by Smith. Avon Lake chose not to contest with five seconds left. The Rangers kept it close by going 6-of-6 from the free throw line, but never got it back to one possession.
“They got some easy baskets and made us really work for some,” North Ridgeville coach Bryan Morgan said. “Marsh was a huge factor in the second half. They got the ball to him in all the right places. I didn’t think we defended him really well. When we got a stop, he’d come in and make sure they finished the basketball.”