A convincing 84-60 win over Canton McKinley at the Play-by-Play Classic at Elyria Catholic on Jan. 5 was more than just a much-needed impressive victory for Cleveland Heights.
Tigers coach Michael Cruz thinks it could be a glimpse into the future.
Led by standouts Jae’Lyn Withers (27 points) and Nigel Martin (26), Heights played one of its most complete games of the season and improved to 6-3 on the season with a showdown against Lorain upcoming on Jan. 11.
“This is the kind of game I think the guys know they are capable of playing when we focus and play hard for 32 minutes. This is more of what I think our potential as a basketball team is, but we still have a long way to go,” Cruz said.
The Tigers jumped out to a 49-26 halftime lead, including dominating the second quarter, 30-11.
“Coming off the tough loss to Cleveland Central Catholic, the guys used the practice days to get better and played a very physical, very smart game against a talented team,” Cruz said.
Point guard Christian Dillard had 11 assists and 0 turnovers.
“Christian was outstanding, especially in a game with a ton of pressure,” Cruz said.
“We had several guys step up beside Jae’Lyn and Nigel, which is huge for us now and moving forward.”
Defensively, Heights limited McKinley to 40 points through three quarters. Cruz is convinced the Tiger can continue to evolve into one of Ohio’s top defensive teams.
“We kind of let up and gave them 20 points in the fourth quarter, but for three quarters our effort on defense wass tremendous.” Cruz said.
“Overall it was the kind of effort that can really give this team a boost going into a big game against Lorain. They never got down or needed a shot in the arm, but a win like that is always good. And if we beat Lorain it doesn’t mean we have arrived and if we lose it doesn’t mean the season is over. It is a measuring-stick game to see where we are at in early January.”