WESTFIELD TWP. — Matt Tanko is living a life lesson as a high school sophomore. When an opportunity arises, seize it with enthusiasm because winning usually is the payoff.
Getting a ton more minutes since season-ending injuries to Travis Hissom and Nate Riley, Tanko had the night of his boys basketball career Tuesday as Cloverleaf crushed offensively-challenged Independence 66-45 in non-league play.
The 6-foot-2 backup finished with career highs in points (22), 3-pointers (6) and rebounds (9) as the Colts (6-11) surpassed their win total from the previous two seasons combined and recorded back-to-back 20-point victories for the first time since Jan. 9-10, 1987 (78-51 vs. Medina, 83-36 at North Royalton) after beating Springfield 72-48 on Friday.
“I was just letting the ball fly,” Tanko said. “I was feeling my shot tonight. I can get a lot of rebounds and when I’m on offense I like to shoot, so I like to play inside-outside.
“When I make two threes in a game, I’ll get my confidence up so I can start making shots.”
After recording 26 points in the first 13 games, Tanko has 44 over the last four. The right-hander was pressed into action a little earlier than usual because of foul trouble to starting power forward Nick Bailey, but responded with four quick rebounds, including a putback that put Cloverleaf ahead 15-4.
With Tanko at power forward and freshman Jeremy Cottrell at center for the duration of the second quarter — starting center Sylar Jones also was in foul trouble — Tanko added eight points to help the Colts forge a 29-12 lead.
Tanko then caught fire, parking in the corners against a 1-3-1 zone and nailing three third-quarter 3-pointers.
The night was such a success that Tanko’s last two threes came on a double-teamed, flick-of-the-wrist attempt at the third-quarter buzzer and a rushed NBA-range chuck that banked in with 2:46 left. Tanko finished 8-for-9 from the floor, including 6-for-6 from beyond the arc.
“He was amazing,” point guard Cruz Severson said. “He’s an amazing 3-pointer shooter, and when he’s on, he’s on. He’s not missing.”
Tanko was the star of an all-around solid game for the Colts, who weren’t perfect by any means with 24 turnovers and a 4-for-13 performance at the foul line in the fourth quarter. But on the positive side, Cloverleaf played an above-average 2-3 zone defense, had 16 assists on 23 buckets and shot .605 from the floor.
Small forward Joe Rohde stayed hot with 13 points and four assists. Severson posted what is becoming a fairly common line with six points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals, shooting guard Brycen Holliday overcame a slow start to finish with nine points and backup guard Tyler Webb banked a floater that gave Cloverleaf a 22-9 lead midway through the second quarter.
Independence, which averages only 51.4 points, was 2-for-20 from the floor and 1-for-14 from 3-point range until Justin Pace beat the halftime horn on a 3-pointer.
The Blue Devils tried a man press before alternating between a 1-3-1 zone and man in the half court, but couldn’t stay competitive largely because their offense consisted of ill-advised threes or an entry pass to a double-teamed post.
They also had no answer for Tanko, whose scoring mindset is making him an X-factor for a team that is averaging 59.8 points in wins and 43.0 in losses.
“We’re playing better as a team,” he said. “We just love playing basketball together. That’s about it.
“Winning is addicting. I like it a lot.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Cloverleaf 66, Independence 45
INDEPENDENCE 6 6 10 23 — 45
CLOVERLEAF 15 14 16 21 — 66
Independence — Jamie McMahon 1-0-2, Jack Ksiazka 0-5-5, Wyatt Flynn 2-1-5, Andrew Teribery 1-0-2, Kyle Stefanski 3-0-9, Akhil Patel 0-0-0, Justin Pace 2-0-6, Thomas Ceculski 2-0-4, Alex Hall 2-2-6, Jordan Mallernee 0-2-2, Max Troibner 0-0-0, Adam Kuczmarski 1-0-2, Nathan Steffas 1-0-2. TOTALS: 15-10-45.
Cloverleaf — Joe Rohde 5-3-13, Nick Bailey 0-4-4, Sylar Jones 1-1-3, Brycen Holliday 3-1-9, Cruz Severson 2-2-6, Matt Tanko 8-0-22, Tyler Webb 1-0-2, Jeremy Cottrell 2-0-4, Colin Andel 1-0-3, Alex Leonard 0-0-0. TOTALS: 23-11-66.
3-point goals — Stefanski 3, Pace 2, Tanko 6. Rebounds — Independence 25 (Ksiazka, Hall 5), Cloverleaf 24 (Tanko 9). Assists — Independence 9 (Troibner 3), Cloverleaf 16 (Severson 5). Records — Independence (7-10), Cloverleaf (6-11). Junior varsity — Independence 50, Cloverleaf 27.