Second-half surge not enough for Storm, who fall to Trailblazers, 81-69 – News-Herald


Kelvin Swims of Lake Erie plays defense against Utah Tech. (Noelle Witherite – for The News-Herald)

For the first time, Lake Erie welcomed a Division I opponent into Jerome T. Osborne Family Athletic Center. Utah Tech came into the Nov. 18 contest for its second of two games in its Ohio trip for the Lake Erie Classic.

The Trailblazers came out fast and firing as they built up a double-digit lead before the first media timeout. But the Storm battled back and made it a two-possession game in the middle of the second half.

That was all Lake Erie could muster, though, as Utah Tech took the wire-to-wire victory with a final of 81-69. The Storm fell to 1-3, while the Trailblazers pulled even at 2-2.

Both teams came out of the gate aggressive on both ends of the court as they looked for early control. That’s the pace with which Lake Erie coach Kyle Conley wants to see his team play.

But the Trailblazers pushed them more than they had become accustomed. It forced some early changes for the Storm.

“We’re naturally a pretty aggressive defensive team,” Conley said. “But I think in the first half it got away from us. We watched every game Utah Tech had played so far. They were up in passing lanes, they did a good job being physical with us. It took us a while to match their physicality.”

Leading scorer Johnny Manning was in early foul trouble and missed a majority of the first half. The slow first half didn’t carry over to the second, however.

The Storm came out swinging with Kelvin Swims and Mentor grad Caleb Piks leading the charge. The two combined for 25 points, 22 of which were in the second half.

Conley and his staff stressed the importance of continuing to play with pace while also being able to slow down the game and make it so they found the right opportunities.

“We were able to run some better offense, even at the end of the first half,” Conley said. “Most of our adjustments were on the offensive end. When we had those possessions with clean stops and rebounds, we needed to play with more pace. Finish better at the rim, find shooters. They took us out of a lot of our stuff in the first half.”

Lake Erie was led by Jake Leibacher with 15 points, but he wasn’t the lone contributor to the comeback bid.

The bench contributed 28 points to the comeback, led by Piks with his 13 and Leon Hughes, who had 12. The depth is something with which Conley has been impressed.

His team has put any combination of five players on the floor and garnered positives.

“As we finish out our nonconference schedule, we’re still trying to figure out parts of our rotation,” Conley said. “I haven’t had this much depth as putting guys in that I can trust in situations as I do with this team. They’re experienced, I think as we get into G-MAC play we can survive foul trouble and wear some teams down.”

Utah Tech gathered itself and was able to push the lead back to double digits. The Trailblazers were led by the duo of Jayle Searles with 20 points and Beon Riley with 19.

The lead was never safe however, as Lake Erie continued to hang close to the Trailblazers. With a loud gym and the players challenging their matchups, Conley sees this as a good learning opportunity for the team.

“We’ve played one of the harder schedules in our conference to start out on purpose,” Conley said. “We feel like we’re going to be a good team and wanted to challenge ourselves. Playing a Division I opponent in our own gym was something that came together and were excited for. Our fans were great and we’re playing pretty good basketball. I hope we can continue this trend as the season progresses.”

The Storm look to bounce back when they travel to Youngstown State on Nov. 19. The Trailblazers return west but remain on the road as they travel to Washington State on Nov. 24.

THE SCORE

Utah Tech 81, Lake Erie 69



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