TORONTO - As far as coach John Leary is concerned, Friday's 50-37 victory over Weirton Madonna was a "big win for our program against a quality opponent."
Four players reached double figures (freshman Blaze Glenn paced the way with 15) as the Red Knights evened their record at 5-5. The victory total is one more than Leary's crew earned all of last season.
"I was very pleased with our kids tonight," Leary said. "We told them at halftime that Madonna would make a push and they did. When they cut it to four a couple of times, we kept our composure, didn't panic and answered the bell."
TO THE HOOP — Toronto’s Dillon Gault drives baseline against the defensive pressure of Madonna’s Tyler Ewusiak during Friday’s 50-37 win by the Red Knights.
A bucket in the paint by Madonna's Josh Martin squared the scored at 12 after one period of play. Glenn recorded seven of his total during the frame. Toronto opened the second with a 10-0 run fueled by sharp-shooting Tyler Owens and never trailed from there. The senior guard drained three consecutive triples to start the burst. Dillon Gault sank a free throw to put the Red Knights up 22-12.
The Blue Dons, to their credit, did answer with seven consecutive points. Hard-working Nate Guio canned a jumper, James Carnes scored on a reverse layup and Levi Shreve added a bucket in transition. Guio made it 22-19 when he went one for two from the line.
Baskets by Gault and Brad Melville gave the Red Knights a 26-19 halftime advantage. Owens finished the initial 16 minutes with 12 points, all coming from behind the arc.
Toronto, 50, Madonna 37
Madonna 12 7 10 8 - 37
Toronto 12 14 8 16 - 50
MADONNA (2-6): Guio 5 1-2 11; Antinone 1 0-0 2; Jeter 0 1-2 1; Ewusiak 3 3-4 9; Retton 0 0-0 0; Bowser 0 0-0 0; Shreve 1 0-0 2; Carnes 5 0-0 10; Stakias 0 0-0 0; Martin 1 0-0 2; Blaire 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 16 5-8 37. 3-pointers: none; Rebounds 26 (Gio 12); Turnovers: 20.
TORONTO (5-5): Glenn 7 0-2 15; Chadwick 0 1-2 1; Owens 5 0-1 14; Melville 4 2-2 10; Gault 3 4-6 10; Rawson 0 0-0 0; Stewart 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 19 7-13 50. 3-pointers: Owens (4), Glenn; Rebounds: 17 (Owens, Melville 5); Turnovers: 14.
"We're searching, we're building," said Mike Hagg, who again filled in for head coach George Vargo. "I told our guys they played with a lot of heart today tonight. That was evident by our defensive effort.
"We're not unhappy with our defense but our offense leaves a little to be desired. We have to figure some things out and have to find a way to get 55 or 60 points on the board."
As Leary noted, the visitors did "fight hard and play hard" to start the second half. Thanks to the play of Tyler Ewusiak (he turned a steal into two points then assisted on a Carnes hoop), Madonna got to within three at 32-29. An Owens deuce ended the third.
Melville took over in the fourth quarter, recording eight of his 10 points, as Toronto put the victory on ice.
"We played with our heads straight tonight," Leary noted. "We had a situation earlier in the year when we didn't do that. Even when we were up by 10 without about three minutes to go, I still wasn't comfortable. These guys are just not used to winning; they're still learning how to win."
Owens finished with 14 for the Red Knights, who went 19 of 47 from the floor. Like Melville, Gault also ended with 10.
"That's exactly what we like to see," Leary said of the balanced scoring attack. "They are a bunch of unselfish kids, they don't care who scores. When you get a bunch of kids that want to play together, they're very easy to coach.
"There are no egos involved so we can run things and do certain things and don't have to worry. They just want to win and they are hungry to win. We won four games all of last season but they worked hard. I'm really pleased to see them reaping some benefits so far."
Guio recorded his second double-double of the week for Madonna, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. The Blue Dons out-rebounded Toronto 26-17. Carnes added 10 and Ewusiak nine.
As a team, Madonna took 42 shots but canned just 16. The Blue Dons also were guilty of 20 ball-handling miscues.
"We rebound well, play solid defense, turn the ball over and we're just not putting the ball in the hole," Hagg continued. "We're getting some good looks. I'm not sure if we are rushing shots or what. We practice, practice and practice shooting. We just have to put the ball in the hole a little more."
Toronto returns to action Tuesday when it visits East Richland Christian. Madonna will host Morgantown Trinity on Wednesday.