A tough week of back-to-back games got off to a tough start in a tough environment under tough circumstances for VASJ at Cleveland Heights on Dec. 7.
It all added up to a tough night for the Vikings.
Tyreke Smith scored 26 points and talented point guard Yahel Hill poured in 30 as the Tigers beat visiting VASJ, 94-81.
VASJ fell to 1-1 on the season and will have very little time to rebound as the Vikings will host defending Division II state champ Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on Dec. 8.
VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak wasn’t disappointed in the effort of the Vikings in the loss at Cleveland Heights and felt like his team will learn and grow from the setback. Against a team decidedly more experienced, faster and stronger, the Vikings’ effort kept them within four points in the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard for them to understand but these are 22 games that don’t matter,” Kwasniak said. “It just matters that we got better, and I think we got better.
“Considering Gene (Higgins) had three fouls in the first quarter and things didn’t really go our way the whole night, I was proud of our guys. I thought Anthony Dinuzio did a great job keeping us in it. They had 12 seniors and we have a lot of young guys who are still learning. We will get better.”
Higgins led VASJ with 22 points despite foul trouble in the first half. Freshman Jaden Hameed added 17 points, classmate Enavell Lighty finished with 12 and Jason Priah chipped in 11 off the bench.
“Our problem wasn’t offense,” Kwasniak said. “We were scoring the basketball. Our problem was our ability to stop them on the interior and a lot of times, it was men against boys.
VASJ led, 15-14, midway through the first quarter after Higgins made a pair of free throws. The Tigers responded with a 11-0 spurt and led by nine at the end of the first quarter.
The Vikings shaved three points off the Cleveland Heights lead in the middle quarters. A Hameed layup brought VASJ within four points early in the fourth quarter before Hill and Smith took over.
Cleveland Heights outscored the Vikings, 26-17, in the game’s final minutes.
Hameed’s play was impressive for the Vikings. After he scored nine points in the opener against Euclid, Hameed was forced to assume more responsibility with Higgins in foul trouble.