Cuyahoga Falls -- Rob Slone firmly believes his players can do some special things this season.
Nevertheless, they still manage to make the veteran Cuyahoga Falls head boys basketball coach feel extremely uncomfortable.
The Black Tigers improved to 5-2 with a convincing 48-30 victory over Tallmadge Dec. 22 at Cuyahoga Falls High School.
Falls scored the first 11 points and never looked back en route to the win. While they had a double-digit lead for most of the evening, the Black Tigers had stretches of rather sluggish play.
Unfortunately for Slone, this has been a common theme for his team of late.
"It beats a loss," Slone said. "When you've got a group with a little bit of talent, you're hoping to build that chemistry. I thought we had a pretty good flow the first four games, but we've been stagnant offensively the last three games. Everything is a force -- a forced shot or forced pass. They're not playing free and loose."
In Northeast Ohio Conference River Division play, such troubles could be exposed.
Tallmadge, on the other hand, has some issues of its own.
For starters, the Blue Devils, who had zero returning starters from last season dressed for the game, are struggling mightily to put the ball in the hoop.
Tallmadge (1-5) made one field goal in the first quarter and was down 28-11 at halftime.
"When you have a young team, you go through spells when you question yourself," Blue Devils head coach Aaron Hinkle said. "At halftime, we talked about competing for 32 minutes. I thought we competed and our defensive intensity was good, but you can't win if you can't score."
There were stretches when Falls missed shots in bunches and made careless decisions that led to turnovers.
But the Black Tigers also had a bit more experience, talent and height than Tallmadge.
The Blue Devils had no answer for Falls' most talented and tallest player, Angelo Cugini.
The 6-foot-7 junior post player scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the first half. He made 6-of-7 free throws and brought the home crowd to its feet with a one-handed tomahawk jam in the first quarter.
The dunk seemed to give the Black Tigers and their fans a surge of electricity. Much to the chagrin of Slone, that surge didn't last very long.
"That should have changed the momentum, but I don't think it happened," he said. "I don't know if it was the Christmas break, but we were just not in the flow."
Junior guards Jay Slone and Josh Ricker finished with nine and seven points, respectively, for Falls. Sophomore guard/forward Andrew Francesconi led Tallmadge with seven points and sophomore guard Colten Stricker added six points for the Blue Devils.
Tallmadge had one statistical advantage in this game.
The Blue Devils got to the line more often. Tallmadge converted 9-of-14 free throws, while the Black Tigers made 8-of-12.
Falls, on the other hand, had a significant edge when it came to two-point field goals (17-9).
The Black Tigers were scheduled to host Green Dec. 28. Results were not available at press time.
They are set to visit River Division rival Twinsburg Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Slone certainly hopes his players can get out of their recent funk. He believes the solution to that problem is far from complicated.
"They need to play with excitement," Slone said. "At one point, I told them, 'This is supposed to be fun.' After I said that, I had five guys staring at me like they were down 20."