NORTH ROYALTON — Power forward Jack Simmons was the versatile middle reliever, wing Brendan Merhar took over as setup man and guard Carson Risher played the role of closer.
Together they slammed the door on the Wadsworth boys basketball team’s highest-quality victory of the season Tuesday, as Merhar and Simmons starred offensively and Risher made huge, game-clinching hustle plays in a 54-38 Suburban League National Conference decision over North Royalton.
The Grizzlies (7-8, 5-4), who led virtually from start to finish, scored 14 of the game’s final 18 points against the previously hot Bears (11-6, 6-5), who had won 5-of-6 and 7-of-9.
“We’ve been struggling for a while, but we got a big win Friday against (Cuyahoga) Falls,” Merhar said. “Coming into hostile territory and getting a nice win feels really good right now. (It’s) definitely good for momentum.”
Merhar scored 12 of Wadsworth’s first 27 points and finished with a career-high 20 that included a 6-of-11 performance from 3-point range. The 6-foot-3 Simmons was a high-post beast and ended with 18 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, four blocks, eight turnovers and one hair-raising jackhammer dunk in transition that made the score 48-34 with 4:50 to play.
The latter was made possible by Risher (3 points, 6 assists, 4 steals). The Ohio Northern football recruit had three assists, a steal and a defensive rebound in the game-sealing 8-0 sequence, which began with the score 40-34 before Risher found Merhar and T.J. McDermitt for 3-pointers.
The last dime saw Risher flick the ball two-handed as he tripped while driving the center of the key. After Simmons’ dunk, North Royalton coach and former Brunswick star Nick Lapsevich, whose team didn’t get much scoring outside of physical sophomore point guard Omar Abuhamdeh (14 points), called one of the quickest timeouts of the season.
“I didn’t really know if (Risher) was really going to throw it,” Simmons said. “We’ve been working on alley-oops and fastbreak passing during practice and it hasn’t always worked. It helped us this game, and it was done deal after that.”
Wadsworth set the tone right away by pounding the ball inside to Beau Casey, who had all seven of his points and three of his eight rebounds in the first quarter. The Bears adjusted with double teams, but that opened the high post for Simmons in what amounted to an old-school, inside-out offense.
Merhar was the beneficiary when smaller North Royalton packed the paint, taking advantage of kick-outs with rainbow corner 3-pointers.
Wadsworth shot 8-for-14 in the first quarter but struggled with an 8-for-27 effort in the middle periods, yet extended its lead to 40-32 thanks to great defense against the Bears’ five-out scheme.
North Royalton made a meager 9-of-39 field goals (.231), including 1-of-10 3-pointers, over the final three quarters. The Bears then committed six turnovers while going scoreless for more than four minutes during the fourth quarter.
Simmons, Merhar and Risher made them pay.
“We set the tone defensively,” Merhar said. “We got stops and got out and ran, and I think that was the key.”
Wadsworth 54, North Royalton 38
WADSWORTH 19 10 11 14 — 54
NORTH ROYALTON 14 9 9 6 — 38
Wadsworth — T.J. Lockwood 1-1-4, Jack Simmons 9-0-18, Beau Casey 3-1-7, Brendan Merhar 7-0-20, Lance Steward 0-0-0, Carson Risher 1-0-3, Jake McDermitt 1-0-2, Mitchell Evans 0-0-0, Stanley Bingham 0-0-0. TOTALS: 22-2-54.
North Royalton — Christian Limer 0-0-0, Brandon Bielak 0-0-0, Bradley Kmetz 1-0-2, Jack Bunsey 2-2-7, Omar Abuhamdeh 6-1-14, Nick Evanko 1-1-3, Akram Abuhamdeh 1-0-3, Jordan Garland 3-1-7, Alec Clarin 0-0-0, Daylin Riley 1-0-2. TOTALS: 15-5-38.
3-point goals — Merhar 6, Lockwood, Risher, O. Abuhamdeh, A. Abuhamdeh, Bunsey. Rebounds — Wadsworth 34 (Simmons 12), North Royalton 22 (Garland 5). Assists — Wadsworth 11 (Risher 6), North Royalton 5 (O. Abuhamdeh, Garland 2). Records — Wadsworth (7-8, 5-4), North Royalton (11-6, 6-5). Junior varsity — North Royalton 62, Wadsworth 48.