SALEM - One loss doesn't make or break a season, but in a conference race as tight as the NBC, it makes the road to claiming a title a much more daunting feat.
With sole possession of first place in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference up for grabs Friday night at the John A. Cabas Gymnasium, Salem was unable to overcome a poor shooting performance early on and suffered its' first loss of the season to the unbeaten Canton South Wildcats 78-70.
"We didn't convert well and the first half and in the third quarter we didn't do a good job of getting the ball inside," Salem head coach Rich Hart said. "They are a good team and you have to give them credit. They hit shots early and Fontes was on fire in the first half."
In fact, if it weren't for Armand Fontes, the Quakers would have been able to stake themselves out to a comfortable first quarter cushion. Fontes single handedly lifted Canton South in the first quarter, netting his team's first nine points and 11 out of the first 13.
While Fontes factored largely into the Wildcats scoring with 24 points, Salem's Ryan Bush was responsible for over half of the Quakers scoring load,
pouring in 38.
CANTON SOUTH: 16 21 18 23 - 78
SALEM: 11 16 13 30 - 70
CANTON SOUTH SCORING: Armond Fontes 11-2-24, Jason Merriweather 3-1-7, Kyle Deckerd 5-5-16, Josh Lyon 6-3-15, Trey Taylor 2-0-4, Dejan Nervell 1-0-2, Austin Joliff 5-0-10.
TEAM TOTALS: 33, 11-22, 78.
SALEM SCORING: Ryan Bush 13-8-38, Austin Frank 1-4-6, Mike Madison 1-0-2, Zack Wukotich 1-0-2, Brendan Webb 3-0-9, Zach Economous 1-0-3, Max Wolfgang 3-2-8, Anthony Shivers 0-2-2
TEAM TOTALS: 23, 16-22, 70.
THREE POINTERS: Canton South 1 (Deckerd), Salem 8 (Bush 4, Webb 3, Economous).
"We really had no answer for him," Canton South head coach Frank Spotleson. "We just tried to keep a fresh guy on him at all times in a dogging man-to-man and he was still able to get some fresh looks which shows what a tremendous player he is."
Bush's 38 points ties his career high set earlier this season against East Liverpool.
"You can't score 30 points without being some kind of a player," Spotleson said.
Both teams jockeyed for a lead through much of the first quarter, but Canton South went on an 8-0 run to close out the frame to claim an early lead after one.
"We stuck to our game plan, and we wanted to be patient on offense, but we weren't sure what we were going to see defensively whether that be zone or man," Spotleson said. "They ended up playing us in a tight man and doing a good job with it."
Salem responded by climbing back to reclaim the lead midway through the second with consecutive baskets from Bush and Zack Wukotich. Wukutich's basket at the 4:49 mark put Salem ahead 22-21.
The Quakers lost that lead on the next possession on a basket from Canton South's Josh Lyons.
Brendan Webb, whose intelligence and patience with the ball often take a front seat to his shooting, vaulted Salem right back into the lead with one of his three 3-pointers on the night.
"He's more of a facilitator for our offense, but he can shoot the ball," Hart said.
The lead was short-lived for the Quakers, and the last one they would have on the night as Canton South came roaring back. Salem went scoreless for the next two-and-a-half minutes.
Taking advantage of multiple Salem turnovers, the Wildcats posted a 10-0 run to put themselves up eight with 1:55 to play. Head coach Rich Hart elected to use a timeout to at the very least stall the momentum that Canton South had so suddenly accumulated.
"We missed a lot of lay-ups in the first half. When you're up 10 as opposed to down 10 it changes how that third-quarter plays," Hart said. "We rushed and tried to get 10 points back all at once, which turned into bad shots and easy baskets for them."
Out of the half, Canton South surged again with a 12-4 run to push its' lead to 18 points, forcing Hart to call another timeout. The Wildcats led by as many as 20 in the third.
"We lost four or five possessions in the third quarter and forced things," Hart said. "You can't get those back. When you lose by eight, those five possessions you can't have them."
Salem went extended stretches without recording a basket multiple times on the evening. Those stretches allowed the Wildcats to continuously distance themselves from the Quakers.
"In the third quarter we just didn't do a good job," Hart said. "Max had one bucket and Tony had one free-throw and we need them to be more involved. We didn't do a good job of getting it to them."
Faced with a deficit of 20 in the final quarter, Salem stayed persistent and chipped away at the Wildcats lead. A barrage of three's, six of them in fact in the fourth quarter alone, helped pull Salem within just a single-digit deficit with just over a minute remaining.
With time as their enemy, Salem was forced to continue to foul and hope that the Wildcats would miss their free-throws.
"They are a solid team they've come back from 10 points down to Carrollton before so we knew that was a possibility," Spotleson said. "We didn't want them to shoot the three's, we were hoping they would drive to the basket so we could get the ball back and eat up some clock."
Unable to get any closer, the Quakers were forced to watch as time expired on what became their first loss of the season.
"It is frustrating because we did but we wanted to do in the first half and got the ball inside," Hart said. "We got point-blank shots, we just didn't make them."
Salem's defense, saddled with playing catch-up for much of the evening, also struggled with the Wildcats offense that featured multiple back-door screens and weak-side lay-ups.
"That's what we try to do and that's the focus of our offense," Spotleson said. "At first they started with a little bit of a sag, but when you have a lead they have to come out and play us, and that's what would give us this open lanes to the basket."
For the Quakers, they have little time to stew over a disappointing loss on their home floor as they host Canfield tonight. The opportunity to get back on the floor sooner, rather than later, may only help.
"We need to get back after it and get this taste out of our mouth," Hart said.
Canton South also won the jayvee game 55-30. Kole Ickles paced the Wildcats with 12 points and Malik Campbell added 11.
Ryan Hoover led the Quakers with 18 points.