WARREN -When Warren G. Harding opened up its basketball season at Maple Heights last month, the Raiders built an 11-point halftime lead en route to the victory.
Friday night in Warren, the complete opposite happened. Maple Heights used tough defense, and combined with a rough shooting night by Harding (10 of 43 from the field), the Mustangs defeated the Raiders, 40-36.
While neither team was able to establish any consistency on offense, the defensive performance by the Mustangs (8-4), which included 15 forced turnovers, showed their coach Phil Schmook just how much they have improved since their season began.
"We're a totally different team now then we were in our first game," Schmook said. "Early on in the season, we didn't have everybody together yet, but now we believe in what we're doing. Tonight, we came here and defended very well. I think that we did a good job on (Anthony) Bell tonight, and that was a big priority for us."
After a Harding basket by King Garner gave the Raiders (6-5) a two-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Mustangs were able to bounce back quickly on both ends of the floor. After doing so, they never looked back.
"Down the stretch when they took the lead, we were able to come down, match their bucket, and hit a couple big 3-pointers," Schmook added. "But once again, this win is a credit to our defense.
"Warren Harding has tons of talent and a very good coach, so for us to drive down here and get a victory, it shows that we have a quality team."
Despite Schmook's praise for Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich, he didn't point the finger to anyone but himself. With two losses already this week, he'll look for his Raiders to get things back together tonight at Niles. That said, he knows that it starts with his leadership.
"They packed it in on us defensively," Vlajkovich said. "We prepped for Maple Heights just like we prep every week, but our guys were very flat tonight. We're not executing real well right now, but that's on me and we'll get better.
"At the end of the day, it's my responsibility to make sure that we execute well. When we don't, there's only one man to blame and that's myself."
Laquan Taylor led the Mustangs with 13 points and Cliff Garner added eight. Bell led the Raiders with 14 points while King Garner finished with eight.