BOARDMAN - The Salem Quakers went into the half down by four and their season hanging in the balance. They left the Division II Tournament at Boardman with a 47-36 win over Niles and the right to fight another day.
"We did well in the second half," Salem coach Rich Hart said. "We had the best week of practice we had all year. We shot a ton of free throws and looked sharp all week, but we came out tonight flat. We couldn't throw into the ocean and we couldn't make a foul shot in that first half."
The first half yielded just 14 points for the Quakers, who were tied with the Red Dragons 10-10 after one complete quarter. Of those 14 points just four were scored in the second. Niles managed 19 points through the first two quarters to enjoy a lead at the break.
"We were too lethargic, but luckily we got it going in the second half," Hart added.
Salem followed up the four-point second quarter with 18 points. The Red Dragons weren't so fortunate. They scored only 10 points and fell behind Salem 32-29 after three quarters of action.
Salem's Brendan Webb, who would score 12 points on the night, dropped in eight points in the game-changing third. Ryan Bush, Salem's high scorer with 16, also came up big in the third. He scored six points, hitting a 3-pointer, a jumper and a free throw.
"Brendan and Ryan had some big shots for us tonight," Hart said. "We made the shots we missed earlier in the game and played better basketball."
Defensively, the Quakers stood tall allowing Niles just 17 points through the third and fourth quarters.
"We got it done on the defensive end in the second half," Hart said. "We finally started knocking down some shots, but our defense stepped it up. We had three or four steals in the third and fourth quarters and we took care of the basketball."
The Quakers scored 15 points in the fourth. Niles managed just seven. That was all Salem needed to move on in the postseason.
"We made the plays down the stretch," Hart said of his Quakers who earned their third-consecutive win. "We held on to the lead and that was nice to see."
Trent Kenreigh added 11 points to the Quakers winning cause. Zach Ecomomous put in a 3-pointer, while Salem's big boys - Anthony Shiver and Max Wolfgang combined for five points in the second half.
"We won as a team tonight," Hart said. "Everybody played a part. Everybody stepped up. We came out in the second half a different team and the important thing is we got the win."
Niles was led by Ray Russ' 13 points. Joe Profanchick added 10 in what was the Red Dragons' final game of the 2011-12 campaign. Niles - the tournament's 11th seed - finished the season at 3-18. The Red Dragons capped off the regular season with a win over Beaver Local, but had dropped four-straight games prior to that.
The win ups the Quakers' mark to 9-12 overall. They came into the tournament as the eighth seed. Salem, who has not won a District tile since 2006, next plays No. 2 Poland on Friday at Boardman.
Hart couldn't be happier.
"Right now, we're 1-0," he said. "It's a new season and anything can happen."
NILES: 10 9 10 7 - 36
SALEM: 10 4 18 15 - 47
NILES SCORING: Austin Bergara 1-0-2, Kyle Paden 0-2-2, Ray Russ 4-4-13, Zack Bailey 1-2-4, TYler Negro 2-0-4, Joe Profanchick 5-0-10, Brennen Baker 0-1-1. TEAM TOTALS: 13, 9-10, 36.
SALEM SCORING: Bush 6-3-16, Kenreigh 4-3-11, Brendan Webb 4-2-12, Ecomonous 1-0-3, Max Wolfgang 1-0-2, Anthony Shivers 1-1-3. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 9-18, 47.
THREE POINTERS: Niles 1 (Russ), Salem 4 (Webb 2, Bush, Ecomomous).