Contributed By Noah Ricks
ASHTABULA, OH – Howland coach Dan Bubon has been preparing his boys for this kind of moment. His team came into their district semifinal matchup with Ursuline coming off of a come-from-behind victory at Struthers in the Sectional Finals. They would have to do those kinds of heroics again against the Fighting Irish. Being down 47-40 at the end of the third, the Tigers would play a tremendous 19-3 fourth quarter, including an 8-0 stretch in the final minutes, to shock #8 seeded Ursuline 59-50 at Ashtabula Lakeside. Bubon tried to recall the situation in the final minutes, as emotions were high following the thrilling victory.
“I wish I could remember it right now. I know we were up one and we were holding the ball to get fouled. We got to the foul line, went up three, fouled them and they missed, I remember that sequence, and then we didn’t turn the ball over and kept getting to the foul line. Connor [Durig] got a breakout and a layup there at the end. This game just felt like who was going to make the last run and we made it at exactly the right time. If there were five minutes left in the game, they probably would have made another run right back at us.”
Bubon paid attention to the Howland miscues in the first three quarters that got them into the seven-point hole after 24 minutes. They were set back in the third with turnovers off of hard passes, some missed foul shots and missed bunnies underneath the basket. They also had their best scorer in senior Anthony Massucci held out cold, as he finished with single-digits at 9. Despite this, Bubon reminded his players not to get too excited as this was familiar territory for them.
“We’ve been there before. We were down 10 at half at Struthers in our last game. Our schedule is so tough. You’re going to get down sometimes. That’s what our schedule has done for us is that we don’t panic. Going into the fourth, they were a little bit down coming and I said we’re only down seven. Let’s get a basket. Let’s get a basket and play defense and that’s how it started. We got a basket, we got a stop, and all of a sudden, we’re right back in the game.’’
A player for Howland would have to step up to the plate in support of Massucci and that would be Ben Bronson. Coming in at 5.7 points a game, he had the best game of his junior season, finishing with 17 points. His performance was highlighted by great finishes and shooting, especially from downtown. Bubon really appreciated how Bronson came into his own in a vital tournament game.
“Ben was great. Ben’s been staying after practice the last couple of weeks and shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, and he’s just getting more confidence in his shot. We told all of the other kids you’re going to have to make shots. They were going to try to take Anthony away just the same way we were trying to take [Terrance] Pankey away, and what team was going to have other guys hit enough shots.”
Most importantly, the end of the game was summed up by fouls and free throws. The 8-0 stretch was possible due to the Tigers taking advantage of the double bonus caused by Ursuline, with one foul being called as a flagrant. With six Tiger players averaging over 70% on foul shots over five attempts, they would make Ursuline pay as players like Connor Durig, Alex Henry, and Bobby Sullivan hit clutch free throws to seal the victory. They would then grab a rebound as the visitors’ side erupted.
The Tigers improve to 15-9 with the victory. With Louisville beating Canton South 49-48 down at GlenOak, Howland is set for a date with the Leopards on Friday night in the Division 2 District Finals at Lakeside. That game will be a rematch from a mid-season matchup that the Tigers won 71-65 back on January 11th. This will be Howland’s first trip to the District Title game since 2004 as Bubon and his team seek their first district championship in program history.
“Unfortunately, we only have one day. That kind of stinks. I don’t like the way they do this. I wish we had at least two days to prepare, but, from what I’ve heard, we do have Louisville. I think they won by one against Canton South, so at least it’s somebody we know. If it was Canton South, that is literally someone we have never played and never seen, so a little easier when you know someone, but a lot harder because they’re a really good team. We played tremendous and beat them the first time. That’s probably the best we’ve played all year, and we’re going to need that again on Friday.”
Ursuline ends the season at 17-9 with the loss. Vinny Flauto led the Irish with 17 points. This will be the second time in three years that Ursuline will fall short in the district semifinals. There will be some experience coming back for the Fighting Irish, however. Losing only three seniors to graduation after this year, coach Keith Gunther will now focus on the offseason in hopes of winning Ursuline’s first district championship since 2017.
YSN’s Noah Ricks got a chance to talk to winning coach Dan Bubon following tonight’s contest. You can watch the full interview below.
Postgame Interview With Dan Bubon