For the first time in school history, the Flyers played as the No. 1 team in a poll.
St. Paul — ranked No. 1 in the first Associated Press state poll of the season in Division IV — turned a close game into a comfortable win, dispatching Plymouth, 61-47 in Firelands Conference action on Friday.
"We talked to our kids about it for three or four minutes," said St. Paul coach Mike Smith of the No. 1 ranking. "It’s a honor to be recognized with that, but that does not mean anything. Our No. 1 goal right now in the regular season is winning a league championship."
The Flyers (9-0, 7-0 FC) were led both offensively and defensively by Brandon Furlong. The 6-foot-3 junior tallied 23 points and 12 rebounds to pace St. Paul.
"Brandon did a nice job," Smith said. "Each night it could be somebody else. That is what is nice is what do you key on with us?"
Furlong also played superb defense on Big Red (5-6, 2-5) point guard Walker Elliott. The senior was held to eight points, but half of those came in the final 90 seconds after Furlong and most of St. Paul's starters had left the game.
"Brandon did a nice job on Walker," Smith said. "Brandon is long and we had to talk to the officials about where we had to be to get the five-second count going. You can not get too far out on Walker because then he is beating you off the dribble. Our No. 1 goal was to contain Walker."
A 3 by Brady Brown drew Plymouth within 33-29 with 4:58 left in the third quarter, but the Flyers kicked it into another gear as the Big Red wore down. Furlong rattled off the next eight St. Paul points, building a 41-31 lead. Zeth Goth made two free throws for the Big Red, but the Flyers led by eight points after three quarters.
"For three quarters, we stopped their transition," Plymouth coach Marty McKenzie said. "If we would have connected at the rim like they did, it would have been a much closer ballgame."
The teams battled shot for shot over the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter. St. Paul effectively attacked the rim, making layups, often with ease. It was 45-38 when Jordan Shepherd converted consecutive shots down low to force the Big Red into a timeout.
Then, Nate Winslow and Furlong each scored off of assists by Nick Winslow. After Blake Vanderpool hit a 3 for Plymouth, Nate Winslow made two free throws, Nick Winslow scored off of an assist by Nate Winslow, and Furlong split two free throws for a 58-41 lead with 3:10 left.
"Josh Cox twisted his ankle and we lost our mobile center," McKenzie said. "We had to go to a center that is not as quick as St. Paul's. We went small for about three or four possessions and that was a mistake on my part."
Nick Winslow, Furlong, and Nate Winslow scored on consecutive possessions for the Flyers to open a 64-43 advantage with 1:45 left.
"They are No. 1 in the state," McKenzie said. "We were prepared, but St. Paul executed better than we did. They made layups and we missed layups. They beat us in transition late in the ball game."
Early on, Josh Beebe canned a triple to give Plymouth it's only lead at 5-4. Nate Winslow scored and Furlong tallied a three-point play to give St. Paul the lead for good. A tally by Nick Winslow helped the Flyers to a 11-9 lead after eight minutes.
"We have been in a lot of tight games," Smith said. "We told the kids we had to do what we do and that is defend, rebound, and push the ball."
St. Paul opened the lead to 18-11 when Shepherd scored off of an assist by Nate Winslow. The Big Red countered with scores from Jace Barber and Cox, but Furlong nailed a 3-pointer and back-to-back buckets by Nick Winslow gave St. Paul a 27-17 lead with 2:16 left in the first half.
"We matched St. Paul's intensity and we matched their speed," McKenzie said. "We just do not have their experience. Once we get some experience, we will close that scoring gap."
Goth paced Plymouth with 12 points while Brown had eight points and seven rebounds. The Big Red shot just the two Goth free throws on the night.
"We had two free throws," McKenzie said. "I am a little frustrated, but I am not going to say that was the turning point in the ballgame. If we would have shot 18 free throws like St. Paul did, I would have liked to have seen how it would have ended."
Nate Winslow contributed 14 points for St. Paul while Nick Winslow (five rebounds) and Shepherd each tallied 12 points.
"I liked our competitiveness and toughness," Smith said. "When they pulled the ball out, it tests you. We had to have defensive patience. We started to get antsy because we like to go up and down the floor."
Both teams are back in action tonight. St. Paul hosts Tiffin Calvert (7-2) while Plymouth entertains Mansfield St. Peter's (3-7).
ST. PAUL (9-0, 7-0)
Scotty Adelman 1-0—2, Nick Winslow 6-0—12, Brandon Furlong 7-6—23, Nate Winslow 6-2—14, Jordan Shepherd 6-0—12, Jude Sweet 0-1—1. TOTALS 26-9-64.
PLYMOUTH (5-6, 2-4)
Walker Elliott 4-0—8, Brody Brown 3-0—8, Josh Beebe 2-0—5, Jace Barber 1-0—2 Zeth Goth 5-2—12, Josh Cox 2-0—4, Clayton Miller 2-0—5, Blake Vanderpool 1-0—3. TOTALS 20-2—47.
St. Paul 11 17 13 23 — 64
Plymouth 9 15 9 14 — 47
3-point FGs: (SP) Furlong 3; (P) Brown 2, Beebe, Miller, Vanderpool.