JJ Weisenberger scored off of a turnover before John Skrada hit consecutive 3-pointers. What was just a 10-point lead for Western Reserve was quickly now 18 points.
The margin never dipped below 16 points from there on and the Roughriders opened the season with a convincing 71-50 non-league win over Margaretta on Friday in Castalia.
"We talked about opening night can be fickle at times," Western Reserve coach Chris Sheldon said. "On opening night, we have seen strange things happen before. One thing we asked our kids to do was avoid the peaks and valleys. You’re going to miss shots. You’re going to have boneheaded turnovers, and you are going to have missed defensive assignments. We can not dwell on those. Good teams do not dwell on those — especially on opening night on the road."
Rowlinson paced Western Reserve (1-0) with 20 points and seven rebounds while Cory Hipp added 19 points and five rebounds. Skrada tallied 15 points and five rebounds.
"I think our kids maintained a mental composure about themselves," Sheldon said. "When you avoid the peaks and valleys, you play pretty consistent basketball for an opening night. I thought we did that pretty darn well. You would expect that with six letterwinners back."
The 'Riders led, 36-26 at halftime and it was 38-28 when Weisenberger scored. After a missed shot by the Polar Bears (0-1), Skrada hit the first of his back-to-back triples. The second made it 46-28 as Margaretta coach Steve Keller called timeout.
"We like to believe we have enough firepower consistently across the board," Sheldon said. "We had to feel confident in other guys around Luke. We always know we are a team that can go on a quick 8-0 or 10-0 spurt. I thought at that juncture of the game, it was one of the big knockout punches."
From there, Western Reserve kept the pressure up and even opened the lead to 20 points at 54-34, and the 'Riders led by the same margin after three quarters.
"They are good," Keller said. "They have everybody back pretty much and they can shoot it."
Even when the Polar Bears made a shot in the fourth quarter in an effort to even remotely begin a comeback, Western Reserve was there with the answer. Hipp and Rowlinson scored in response to a Margaretta score and Hipp drilled a 3 for a 67-46 lead with 2:22 left.
"We had a few defensive miscues," Keller said. "We did not stop the ball or we would get a defensive rebound and would literally give it right back to them for a score."
Nathan Schaefer opened the game with a three-point play for the Polar Bears just four seconds in. But, Western Reserve ran off the next 11 points before a three-point play from Cameron Sosa was followed by two free throws by Spencer Michel and a Bryceten Hedden score to cut the lead to 11-10.
Margaretta tied the game at 15 before buckets by Rowlinson and Hipp gave the 'Riders a 19-15 edge after eight minutes. Rowlinson scored, Skrada split two free throws, and Rowlinson was good on a 3 from the top of the arc for a 25-15 lead.
Hedden made two free throws and Michel hit a 3-pointer for Margaretta out of a timeout to get within 25-20, but it was the closest the Polar Bears would get. Skrada scored twice during a quick 6-0 run for the 'Riders and a three-point play by Rowlinson gave Western Reserve a 34-23 lead with 1:29 left until halftime.
Margaretta is playing the season with 6-foot-8 post Mitch Raifsnider, who tore his ACL in football. Sheldon noted that the game plan completely changes if Raifsnider plays.
"That is a big difference," said Sheldon of the junior. "One thing we struggled with at times was the low post. We were inconsistent some of the times with our rotation and how we defended that. If you added a kid of his caliber that is excellent inside and out, that would have been that much more problematic."
The 'Riders committed just seven turnovers — something that Sheldon is more than pleased with.
"When we are at our best, we are valuing the rock," Sheldon said. "When you play four guards at all times, and even five guards at times, you should be able to handle the basketball. That is one of our strengths."
Western Reserve will host Firelands on Saturday in its home opener in Collins.
WESTERN RESERVE (1-0)
Luke Wyers 2-0—4, Cory Hipp 8-2—19, JJ Weisenberger 2-0—4, John Skrada 4-5—15, Luke Rowlinson 8-2—20, Jude Muenz 2-2—7, Matt Jarrett 1-0—2. TOTALS 27-11—71.
Cameron Sosa 1-1—3, Nathan Schaefer 3-1—8, Bryceten Hedden 6-7—19, Spencer Michel 3-2—10, Ben Palomo 3-1—8, Mike Wadsworth 1-0—2. TOTALS 17-12—56.
W. Reserve 19 17 20 15 — 71
Margaretta 15 11 10 14 — 56
3-point FGs: (WR) Skrada 2, Rowlinson 2, Hipp, Muenz; (M) Michel 2, Schaefer, Palomo