Hawken Hawks boys’ basketball Coach Josh Nugent said he thought his team played pretty well in the first half against Chagrin Valley Conference foe Beachwood.
He also added the Hawks did not finish as well as they could have at the rim, and trailed 34-27 at the half.
Hawken erupted in the second half and outscored the Bison 63-27 to pummel their CVC foes 90-61 in its regular season finale last Friday evening at Beachwood High School.
“The goals we had coming into this season were to finish in the top two in the CVC with Richmond Heights right there and then also for our groupto get over .500,” Nugent said. “Those two things were right in front of us on Friday night and to play the way we did in the second half specifically was really a cap to that season and it was cool to see the kids be able to accomplish the goals they had set for themselves.”
It marks the first time since Nugent became head coach that the Hawks (12-10, 9-6) finished with a record above .500, a feat that the team had not accomplished since the 2016-17 season when Hawken clinched the CVC Chagrin Division title.
Hawken’s successful season has it seeded 12th in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II Northeast 2 Region 5 Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin bracket and will host its first home playoff game since the 2018 playoffs.
“It means a lot because we have played well at home this year,” Nugent said. “If you do not play well at home, how big of a deal is it other than you may not have to travel very far but this is a group that has played really well at home. We have taken care of business and finished the season 7-3 at home so to play a home game is a reward.”
In Nugent’s first season as coach, Hawken only posted two victories, then increased their win total to five the following season and improved to 11 victories last year before finally getting over the .500 mark this season.
“The record is the outward sign that we are getting better so it does matter a little bit like when you are talking about progress and where you are going,” Nugent said “It is just that sign to everyone else that yes here we are. We are growing and we are getting better and we are going to be here a while which is kind of the hope.”
According to Nugent, the Hawks’ ascent this season has been made more special by having only four seniors.
Although Hawken graduated eight seniors last year, it returned key players like guards Dominic Johnson and Danny Grajzl.
“We had such a great group,” said Nugent. “Danny had played full-time for two years but even as a sophomore he saw some time on the varsity roster so you are talking about a three-year kid and then Dominic started as a freshman from day one as our point guard. We knew we did not have a ton of senior leadership coming back but with Danny and Dom we knew we had the right type of kids and people to help lead this thing.”
The Hawks have combined their small senior class with an influx of talented underclassmen, freshman guards Da’Ron Hill and Gregory Price, and believe they will be in the upper tier of the CVC for years to come.
The Bison controlled the game in the first period and took a 16-10 advantage at the end of the quarter.
Hawken paid close attention to Beachwood’s leading scorer senior guard Nate Lurie but senior guard Josh Jones also got off to a fast start by tallying seven points in the first quarter.
“Josh is not someone that we have seen as much of in the past couple of years but we obviously saw him in our first game,” said Nugent. “He is a really good player and gets to his spots. He is left-handed and really good at getting to his spots and getting back to his spots even if you try to cut off that left side of the floor a little bit because he has that ability to get back to it.”
The 6-foot Beachwood guard continued pacing the Bison with 7 points in the second quarter and the Bison outscored Hawken 18-17 to build a 7-point lead into the half.
According to Nugent, the Hawks could not miss at the beginning of the third quarter and went on an 8-0 run to take a 1-point lead and did not slow down.
Five different Hawken players scored in the third quarter, with junior guard Taj Caver scoring 11 points to lead the way.
“I know he got to the rim as good as any game as he did on Friday night and when he does that, it all of a sudden makes it a lot easier for him to get cleaner looks on the perimeter,” Nugent said. “When he has that attack mindset, he can get going downhill and get to the rim himself and make plays for other guys.”
The Hawks outscored Beachwood 31-12 to take a 12-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
“I think our guys understood that we were patient, and got the looks that we wanted and executed our actions that we wanted to go to really well,” Nugent said. “On the flip side of it we were able to get stops so that we could run numbers and played a lot of the second half in advantage-situations.”
The 6-foot-0 Hill guarded Jones in the second half and held him scoreless while the 6-foot-0 Grajzl hounded Lurie limited him to score only 15 points in the game.
“When their two primary guys have a hard time scoring in the second half that was as much of a reason as we were able to take control of the game which was our ability to really shut those guys down in the second half,” said Nugent.
Hawken’s postseason begins when it welcomes Youngstown East to the Red Gym in Chester at 7 p.m. Feb. 21.
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