For two teams that had played a combined five regular season games since late November, inconsistency was expected when Rocky River hosted Shaw in a boys basketball contest Dec. 29.

And inconsistency was exactly what played out on the court, though a 15-0 run in the second quarter put the Cardinals in firm control of what became a 69-49 win over the Pirates.

After his team shot 29% from the floor and committed 17 turnovers, Pirates coach Mike Murray described that afternoon’s performance as being full of peaks and valleys.

“I thought at times we did a really good job, and at times our pressure did a good job of taking (Shaw) out of what they wanted to do,” Murray said. “We’ve got to be more consistent. They (beat us) with offensive rebounds, then we’d get a stop and turn it over right away. And those are the worst turnovers because they’re leading right to baskets.”

Robby Lang (15 points, 7 rebounds) and Braedon Spies (11 points) led the Pirates (1-3) against the longer and more explosive Cardinals (1-2), though they were never able to shake the uneven play.

The Pirates scheduled the Cardinals, a non-conference opponent typically not on their schedule in recent years, on the fly, set at the conclusion of a COVID-19 quarantine that left them with just enough time to run a single practice the day before.

Murray said that the uncertainty of this season has meant that his team, much like any other currently playing across the state, will be working out kinks during games that would normally be ironed out during practice time.

“We were worried coming in because we hadn’t got much practice time in the last 10 days,” he said. “I don’t think we shot the ball that bad, I just think our ball movement was slow and some of our decision making wasn’t there.”

Cardinals coach Marvin Rashad agreed. His team was only playing in its third game of the season, and had yet to play on its home floor.

“There’s been no preparation time,” he said. “This is the first year that I’ve seen high school basketball feel more like an AAU season. You’re just preparing and trying to get better during games. It is what it is this year with the COVID situation. We’re just trying to get better every second we can play, whether it’s a game or a practice.”

For the first 12 minutes, the teams traded baskets and leads, with the Pirates ending the first quarter up 13-12. Following more back-and-forth play, Robby Lang drilled a 3-pointer to put the Pirates ahead 18-16 early in the second quarter. Then they fell from that peak into a valley.

The Cardinals dialed up their defense, forced four second-quarter turnovers and ended the half on a 15-2 run, leading 31-20. A 10-0 run midway through the third period improved the lead to 45-28. In the second and third quarters, the Cardinals outscored the Pirates by a combined 33-16.

Rebounding was also a strength for the Cardinals, who outworked the Pirates 32-21, including 12-9 on offensive boards. Crashing the glass helped fuel the Cardinals’ transition game, which they used to build their lead in the middle quarters.

“We’re an athletic team, a long team, and if we play help defense, we’re a good team,” Rashad said. “If we play help defense and keep a foot inside the paint, we can hold teams to jump shots and one-shot possessions, and we’re in the paint and ready to rebound (and run in transition).”

The Pirates pulled to within 10 early in the final quarter, but the Cardinals collected themselves during a timeout and put together a quick 7-0 run, punctuated by a Zaharius Hillman dunk in transition that put the game on ice.

All 12 Cardinals in Rashad’s rotation scored during the game, led by Randy Harris’ 15-point, 10-rebound double-double. Fellow big man Luqman Abdul-lateef scored 10, and guard De’Lon Bush added nine with a team-high five assists.

The Pirates will next host Valley Forge in a Great Lakes Conference matchup at 7 p.m. Friday.

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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