Toronto keeps showcasing strong EOAC campaign by defeating United

LAYING IT IN — Toronto’s Nate Karaffa shoots around United’s Dakota Hill (23), Parker Hydrick (4) and Landon Baker (25) on Tuesday. -- Patti Schaeffer

HANOVERTON — The Toronto boys basketball team’s stay in the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference will wind up being very brief, but the Red Knights are determined to leave their mark while they are in.

In the biggest conference game of the season to date, Toronto set the tone with its tough-minded defense and led most of the way in a 57-49 victory at United on Tuesday.

The victory pulls the Red Knights (9-4, 7-2 EOAC) even with the Eagles (9-4, 7-2) atop the league standings, with Wellsville lurking one game back.

“It was really big to come in here and get a win tonight,” Toronto junior guard Trillion West said. “We knew how big this game was for the conference, and this shows that we are ready to compete.”

“Right from the start, they set the tone that they were here with a purpose,” United coach Chris Kadvan said. “At the end of the day, they outplayed us. Credit to them for stepping up for a big game on the road.”

The Red Knights learned last week that the school administration voted to withdraw from the league (which is in its inaugural season) after next school year for primarily financial reasons.

Toronto coach Sean Tucker expressed some surprise at the move, but said his main focus his helping steer his team to a league title.

“Yes, I was a little surprised,” Tucker said. “I’ve enjoyed being in this league so far. There’s some good teams up here and it’s very competitive. But, if it’s a decision based upon helping the entire school, then we’ll follow what the administration decides. I try not to worry about the behind the scenes stuff too much, I’m just coaching basketball.”

United could never find a groove with its shooting and trailed for all but the first four minutes.

The Eagles shot just 3-for-16 in the first quarter and finished the night 17-for-50 for 34 percent.

“You have those nights,” Kadvan said. “I thought we had great looks and ran our offense well, we just couldn’t score.”

The first meeting between the teams was a similar gritty, low-scoring affair with United prevailing 57-54. In Kadvan’s view one of the major differences in Tuesday’s game was the amount of 50/50 balls Toronto was able to secure.

The Red Knights won the rebounding battle 32-21.

“The first time down there we won all the 50/50 balls and Toronto was able to get most of them tonight. That was one of our keys coming in and they mastered that,” Kadvan said.

Despite the shooting woes, United went into halftime trailing just 29-24.

However, in the second half, the Red Knights gradually began to assert control.

Toronto’s defense opened the third quarter by allowing just four United points during the first four-and-a-half minutes as the Red Knights opened a 41-28 lead.

“Our defensive mentality, especially in the second half, was the biggest difference for us tonight,” West said. “In this league, every game is tough and you have to come out every night ready to play hard defense.”

The surge was fueled thanks in part to a baseline floater, a three-pointer and two foul shots from forward Nick Sninchak (nine points, eight rebounds). West added a three-pointer with 3:30 left in the third.

“I thought that our defense came out and set the tone in the second half and that led to our offense,” Tucker said. “We pride ourselves on our defense. These guys play with a lot of passion and they feed off of each other on that side of the ball.”

West buried another key three-pointer with 3:16 left in the game to put the Red Knights in control, 48-36. The lanky junior finished with a game-high five threes as part of his 17 points to lead the Toronto offense.

“Trillion is a coaches’ dream,” Tucker said. “He’s the one who’s going to put all the time in the gym and the one who’s going to get everybody riled up and get everybody working together when we need it.”

Nate Karaffa got the Red Knights offense going early with his driving ability and finished with 11 points, while forward Lucas Gulczynski battled his way to 13 points and seven rebounds.

Dakota Hill paced the Eagles with 22 points, four assists and four steals. He refused to let his team go quietly with three threes in the last 1:40 to pull United within seven, but it was too little too late.

“Hill is a player,” Tucker said. “He’s probably the best point guard we’ve seen all year. He’s a talented player and he’s a leader.”

United is at Leetonia on Friday. The Eagles beat the Bears 60-49 in their first meeting on Dec. 8. Toronto hosts East Palestine Friday.

With how volatile the league has been, Kadvan knows the issue is far from settled.

“Anyone in the league can lose on any given night,” Kadvan said. “Our mentality the whole year has been to worry about what we can control. We have to move on from this and get ready for Leetonia.

Game notes:

≤ Seven of United’s nine conference games have been decided by 10 points or less.

≤ Kaden Smith added 11 points for the Eagles, while Alex Birtalan had eight rebounds.

≤ United won the jayvee game 42-37. Nathan Pytash had 10 points for the Eagles. Andre Roach had 16 points for the Red Knights.

TORONTO 15-14-13-15–57

UNITED 7-17-8-17–49

TORONTO SCORING: Trillion West 5-1-17, Kobe Herrick 2-0-4, Nate Karaffa 5-1-11, Brendan Matyas 1-0-3, Lucas Gulczynski 5-3-13, A.J. Clegg 0-0-0, Jake Keenan 0-0-0, Nick Sninchak 3-2-9, Andre Roach 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 22-48, 6-13: 57.

UNITED SCORING: Kaden Smith 4-3-11, Dakota Hill 7-4-22, Parker Hydrick 1-2-4, Alex Birtalan 2-1-5, Landon Baker 3-1-7, Nick Rhodes 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 17-50, 11-16: 49.

Three-point goals: Toronto 7-16 (West 5, Matyas, Sninchak), United 4-19 (Hill 4)