BELOIT - After his Warriors upset previously undefeated and state-ranked East Liverpool on Tuesday, West Branch coach John Hancock was worried about a letdown with rival Salem set to visit on Friday.
He need not have been. There was no letdown from the Warriors - only a shakedown - as West Branch downed the Quakers 54-34.
"This was the best game we've played by far all season," Hancock said. "We played four solid quarters and won every quarter. I guess we actually tied the third, but Salem came in here averaging 61 points a game and we were able to shut them down."
The Warriors stormed out of the gate, taking a 20-10 after one complete and kept Salem out of the contention the rest of the game. The Quakers, who West Branch beat earlier in the season in double overtime, scored just five points in the second quarter, nine in the third and nine in the fourth.
"We hit some early buckets and took an early lead and that helped, but our defense won this game," Hancock added. "Ryan Bush is one of the best players in the league and Scott Muckleroy and Jalen Shelton did a great job of containing him and knowing where he was on the floor at all times. We were also able to match up pretty well inside. I know Anthony Shivers got a couple of buckets late, but Salem is a tough team to defend. They have so many scorers and are good at what they do. I thought our defense really stepped up."
As for the Salem scorers, they just weren't feeling it on Friday. The Quakers had difficulty finding the basket all night.
"We shot 15 percent from three and only 30 percent from two," Salem coach Rich Hart said. "If you would have told me we were going to hold (West Branch) to 54 points, I would have told you we win the game. We missed too many shots and we missed uncontested, easy shots. We missed eight layup opportunities in the first half and we're down by 14 at the half."
Bush, who scores close to 20 a game, ended up with 12 points, and no other Quaker came close to notching double digits.
"It wasn't just one person who had an off night," Hart continued. "It was everybody. If one person misses shots, that's one thing, but when the entire team misses, you can't win. And you can't try to make up 14 points on one possession. We have to take better shots and have better possessions than we did tonight."
The Quakers also struggled on the boards, grabbing just nine rebounds to the Warriors' 27. The Warriors also won the turnover battle, committing 10 while Salem committed 12. Seven of those Quaker turnovers were West Branch steals.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing for West Branch. After jumping out to the 20-10 lead, the Warriors too struggled to post points in the middle quarters. They notched just eight in the second quarter and only nine in the third, but finished big with 17 points in the final period.
"In that second quarter, Salem switched to a zone and we didn't handle that well," Hancock said. "They were able to slow down the game, but we were up by then and we're happy to slow things down a bit."
Most of West Branch's points came from the inside with big man Jacob Griffith scoring a game-high 20. Muckleroy added 10 points.
"Like I said after the East Liverpool game, I don't think any of our players are averaging double digits, but after tonight Griff is probably close," Hancock said. "He had a great a game, and Matt Latham also played great tonight. Matt is one of the best passers I've ever seen for a big man. He did a good job of getting the ball to Griff and knowing where he was on the court. As a team, we've done a pretty job of knowing where our guys are at and getting the ball to the open player."
The Warriors improved to 7-4 overall and stand at .500 (4-4) in the NBC. They next travel to Carrollton on Tuesday.
"We have another big game ahead of us with Carrollton," Hancock said. "They beat us earlier in the year and we will have our work cut out for us."
The Quakers dropped to a disappointing 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the league despite leading West Branch, Marlington, Louisville and Minerva late in games. Salem also lost to Alliance, but earned NBC wins over Canton South and Carrollton.
"It's frustrating," Hart said. "I'm not sure what it is and what it was tonight. I can't fault their efforts. We played hard tonight."
Salem next hosts Marlington on Tuesday and play at Minerva on Friday.
The J.V. Warriors topped Salem 51-40. Jake Ross scored 11 points for the Warriors, while Matt Meter notched nine. Salem's Brooks Bezon also came up with 11 points.
SALEM: 10 5 9 9 - 34
WEST BRANCH: 20 8 9 17 - 54
SALEM SCORING: Ryan Bush 4-4-12, Trent Kenreigh 3-0-7, Zach Penick 2-0-4, Brayden Myers 1-0-2, Brendan Webb 1-0-3, Max Wolfgang 0-2-2, Anthony Shivers 2-0-4. TEAM TOTALS: 13, 6-6, 34.
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Kip DeShields 1-1-3, Scott Muckleroy 50-010, Auten Rekolt 3-0-7, Drake Lohnes 2-0-4, Jalen Shelton 0-1-1, Jacob Griffith 9-2-20, Matt Latham 3-1-7. TEAM TOTALS: 23, 7-10, 54.
THREE POINTERS: Salem 2 (Kenreigh, Webb), West Branch 1 (Rekolt).