AUSTINTOWN - Austintown Fitch's Jessie Driver isn't your typical point guard.
He's a slashing 6-foot-1 junior with the mentality of a bruising 7-foot center.
"I love rebounding," said Driver, whose team beat Niles on Friday, 56-46. "I wish I was a big man, honestly. I have a couple of times against Curtis Beverly, but he's 6-4, 7-foot wingspan. Preparing like that against big guys helps in boxing out guards. It makes it a whole lot easier in the games."
It also helps that the Austintown Fitch guard has more springs than a pogo stick in both of his legs. His 17 points and 12 rebounds were proof of his athleticism.
"He can really go up and go get it," Fitch coach Brian Beany said.
Fitch really went after it Friday with a 18-4 lead early in the second quarter. The Falcons (5-7, 2-4 All-American Conference, American Division) made their first four shots from the floor and were 6 of 9 in the first quarter.
Quincy Higgins had six of his 13 points in the first for the Falcons.
"Coming out and putting the ball in the basket early is a positive momentum builder," Beany said.
The Red Dragons (8-6, 3-3) shot 2 of 9 in the first quarter and 7 of 23 at halftime, trailing 26-16.
"Nothing's going in," Niles coach Ron Price said of the early deficit. "What do you do? It is what it is. It was 10 at the half and it shouldn't have been that. We didn't find some ways to put the ball in the hoop and we all know that."
Niles came into the second half with a sense of purpose and intense trapping skills to eventually cut the lead to 30-29 with 3:40 left in the third quarter. Ray Russ, who had a team-high 13 points, blasted through the seemingly impenetrable Fitch zone defense with Falcon players flailing their arms and cutting off driving lanes, to cut the Fitch lead to one. That would be the closest the Red Dragons would get to taking the lead.
"We knew Niles would make a run at some point," Beany said. "Our kids hung in there."
Price, on the other hand, liked the fighting spirit of his Red Dragon team. Justin Lopes, who had four 3-pointers for 12 points, and Kymone Gamble added 10 for Niles.
"We just never got over the hump," said Price, whose team was 8 of 27 from 3-point range. "We had a chance. I'm proud that we fought. We just put stress on ourselves. Shooting isn't where it needs to be. We know that. We're going to keep shooting because that's what we got to do.
"We have to find some people that can put the ball in the hoop."
Fitch, which shot 21 of 41 from the floor, had ownership of the rebounds as well - maintaining a 36-18 edge. Alex DiFrancesco added 10 rebounds.
"Niles shoots a lot of 3s," Beany said. "We knew for us we had to control the rebounding edge. They're going to shoot the ball a lot, and we have to make sure they don't get second-chance shots.
"It was a good win over a quality team."
Tuesday, LaBrae is at Niles. Next Friday, Fitch travels to Poland.