By Michael Leonard | Record Publishing Co.
The matchup between Field and Tallmadge on Monday in a Division II sectional playoff featured two teams in need a boost in their respective tournament openers.
If ever a contest was a tale of two halves, this was it.
Sparked by junior guard Austin Sparks, Field took a 24-18 lead at halftime. However, Tallmadge roared back, outscoring the Falcons 34-16 in the second half to score a 52-40 win.
Tallmadge improved to 7-16 and advanced to face Akron Buchtel in the Division I sectional final on Friday at Stow High School.
Field finished the season at 6-17.
Falcons head coach Jon Lane said the early eruption from Sparks, who scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the first half, was not unexpected.
"He's had some 20-point games for us," Lane said. "We told him at halftime that they were going to concentrate on him. We weren't getting a lot of support knocking down shots."
Meanwhile, Tallmadge head coach Aaron Hinkle said his team looked a step slow early on.
"I think we were a little out of sync," Hinkle said. "You've got to give Field credit for hitting some shots. Once we started to give some better defensive effort, our offense started to pick up."
Outside of Sparks' big half, no one was hitting buckets consistently early on for the Falcons. Field made a concerted effort to deny Tallmadge the lane, which resulted in several charging calls.
The Blue Devils were not careful with the ball, either, as turnovers were common.
The game was tied at 8 after one quarter, when Sparks sparked an 11-0 run to give Field a 21-14 lead with about two minutes to go in the half.
Tallmadge fought back a bit, but Sparks hit a fallaway three-pointer as the first half ended, giving the Falcons the six-point halftime lead.
After the break, however, Tallmadge's inside presence started to show, particularly from sophomore forward Andrew Francesconi.
"We had it planned to double-team (Francesconi) in the first half when he got the ball low," Lane said. "We did a good job in the first half. The game got a little physical in the second half, and we were swatting at balls, where just keeping our hands up would have been good."
Fouls became a bigger issues as the game went on for Field.
Tallmadge took the lead back with a 13-1 run to make its 32-28, as the Devils did much of their damage at the foul line.
Francesconi finished the game 7-of-13 from line, nearly equalling the Falcons free-throw output (9-of-15) on his own.
"He's usually an 85 percent free-throw shooter, so I wasn't concerned with the fouls," Hinkle said.
Tallmadge took the lead until 2.3 second left in the third quarter, when Sparks was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer.
Sparks nailed 2-of-3 free throws, tying the game at 32 after three periods.
The fourth quarter was all Blue Devils, however.
Francesconi hit for an old-school three-point play to key the decisive run for Tallmadge. He finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Tallmadge was fouled on its first three offensive possessions in the quarter and finished the game with going 18-of-25 from the line.
Field started to buckle a bit when forward Macklin Coleman fouled out with about four minutes left.
"You could tell in the final minutes that we were missing something," Lane said. "(Macklin) is our inside presence."
Field attempted to got to a full-court press in the game's final minutes, but Tallmadge broke it easily, leading to several runout layups.
A steal and bucket from guard Nick Bickar in the last minute put the icing on the cake for Tallmadge.
Bickar finished with nine points, as Tallmadge outscored Field 20-8 in the final quarter.