EAST LIVERPOOL -The Potters are looking to defend their title.
Hayden Cunningham netted a team-high 23 points to lead the East Liverpool boys' basketball team to a 72-59 victory over Berkshire in Game 2 of the Potter Holiday Classic Thursday night at Potter Fieldhouse.
"Our intensity on defense made the difference," East Liverpool head coach Nate Conley said. "In the first half, it was awful. In the second half, we made some adjustments. We picked up the intensity, and we caused some turnovers.
East Liverpool’s Hayden Cunningham goes up for a shot against Berkshire in Game 2 of the Holiday Classic Thursday night at Potter Fieldhouse. (Photo courtesy Jimmy Joe Savage)
"Offensively, we finally ran our stuff. We moved the ball. We got the ball into the hands of the right people and we took advantage of that."
With the win, the Potters are now 3-7 on the season, and East Liverpool will play Youngstown Urusline in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The Irish advance to the title tilt by knocking off Linsly, 60-42, in Game 1 of the tournament.
"Their athleticism stands out," Conely said about the Irish. "They are probably the most-athletic team we will face all year. They play full-court pressure defense. They play man-to-man. They trap all over the court. They have two 6-4 kids who can really jump.
East Liverpool 72, Berskshire 59
BS 10-14-21-14 - 59
EL 07-19-18-28 - 72
BS (52): Jarett Smetana 2 2-2 6, Erick Burzanko 1 0-2 3, Tim Ludlow 10 11-12 32, Iain Laymon 1 2-3 5, Dave Mayer 4 1-1 9. Totals: 18 16-20 59.
EL (72): D.J. Austin 5 5-6 16, Hayden Cunningham 9 0-0 23, Kade Reynolds 5 4-6 16, Derek Thompson 3 1-2 7, Rian Burson 1 0-0 3, Aaron Long 3 1-1 7, John Rickerd 0 0-0 0. Totals: 26 11-15 72.
3-Pointers: Berkshire: 3 (Burzanko, Ludlow, Laymon); East Liverpool: 9 (Cunningham 5, Reynolds 2, Austin, Burson).
"We are going to have our hands full, but they are the type of team I love to play. They are going to be a real test, but you only get better by playing better teams."
Last year, East Liverpool defeated Vermilion in the semifinals before defeating Canal Fulton Northwest in the finals to claim the tournament title. Akron Buchtel defeated East Liverpool in the finals back in 2010.
Against the Badgers, Cunningham was joined in double digits by D.J. Austin and Reynolds. Austin and Reynolds both netted 16 points. Austin also added eight assists.
Finally, Derek Thompson and Aaron Long each collected seven points, and Rian Burson recorded three points.
Tim Ludlow led the way for Berkshire with a game-high 32 points.
"We knew they had a stud player," Conley said. "He is averaging 25 points per game. He was a handful. He pretty much did what he wanted on the offensive end. He got his, but we limited everyone else. That was our game plan going into the game.
"We pretty much controlled the rebounding in the second half. We made a major adjustment.
"Now, we have to play against a tough Youngstown Ursuline team."
Berkshire led 10-7 after the first quarter, but the Potters outscored the Badgers, 19-14, in the second stanza to take a 26-24 lead into halftime.
Berkshire outscored East Liverpool, 21-18, in the third quarter to take a 45-44 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Potters outscored the Badgers, 28-14, in the final frame to pull out the victory.
The win snaps the Potters' two-game losing streak.
The Potters had more than a week off to prepare for the Badgers. East Liverpool's previous game was a loss back on Dec. 18 at home to Columbiana County rival Salem.
"Yeah, the time off helped us," Conley said. "I have been saying all year the one thing we need is practice. We were finally able to practice. We went back to basics. We had some rebounding drills. We worked on hedging the pick and roll. We put in a new offense at practice, and it paid off.
"D.J. Austin and Kade Reynolds each had great floor games. Hayden Cunningham was hitting his jump shots. we played good team basketball. Hopefully, we can continue to do that. We are going to keep working hard."