Cleveland Heights set the tone for the boys basketball season in a big way with a resounding 73-51 win over rival Shaker Heights in the season opener on Dec. 2.
Nigel Martin led all scorers with 27 points – including a perfect 8-of-8 from the foul line – for Cleveland Heights in the first game for new coach Michael Cruz.
“This was a big effort for our guys, especially against a good Shaker Heights team, in the first game and it validates a lot of the hard work we have put in so far,” Cruz said. “But, the great thing is this was about family and chemistry and how hard these guys work together and how they are ready to get better and not be complacent because of the success of one night. I think that is the great thing about this team and they know we can get better and if we do the things we are capable of we have a legitimate chance to be one of the teams in Ohio with a chance to get to Columbus.”
The Tigers led by 4 at halftime (33-29), but ran away with the win in the second half by outscoring the Raiders by 7 in the third and by 15 in the fourth quarter.
“It all starts defensively, and to hold a team as talented as Shaker to 8 points in the fourth quarter says a lot about our guys and their commitment to that end of the floor,” Cruz said.
Senior standout Jae’Lyn Withers was hampered by an ankle injury, but finished with 15 points and 4 rebounds. Greg Pitts played a huge game with 9 points for Cleveland Heights.
“Nigel is one of the most underrated players in the entire state of Ohio and he was huge for us tonight. And Greg Pitts played a great game,” Cruz said. “We know what Jae’Lyn is when he is healthy and we think we have a chance to be a very dangerous team. This was a great first step in a long process to where we want to get to.”
Cruz said while the impressive first win was nice and will be enjoyed, there is plenty of work left to be done with a schedule that includes upcoming games against VASJ and St. Ignatius.
“We will enjoy this, but I also know our guys will be ready to get back to work,” Cruz said. “I love that about this team. They have bought in after a few short months together and we are only going to get better.”
Robert Morgan added 14 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists for the Tigers in the victory.