NEWARK, Ohio -- Johnstown’s matchup versus Newark Catholic on Saturday was a tale of two halves, but not in the way one would expect; the Johnnies had complete control throughout.
The difference was where their production was coming from. The first half featured an impressive display of interior dominance from senior West Liberty signee Owen Hazelbaker, while the second half was taken over by sophomore Jake Lusk, who was scoreless in the first half, as he finished with 17. The duo of Hazelbaker and Lusk for Johnstown led their team to a 46-28 win over Newark Catholic.
The game started out extremely slow offensively, something that has become a penchant of LCL play this year. Johnstown shut down the Green Wave attack entirely, holding them to two points in the first quarter, as Hazelbaker got off to a hot start with seven points on two nice post moves and a spot-up three and led the Johnnies to a 11-2 lead after one.
As the first half went on, Newark Catholic made various attempts to chip into the Johnstown lead on the back of junior Connor Roesink, who was the only Green Wave player to get any sort of offense going all game. He had three baskets in the second quarter, but Johnstown was still able to extend their lead with the dominance of Hazelbaker, who had 14 points and six monster boards at half, taking a 22-12 Johnnie lead into the break.
The Johnnies stellar defense got even better in the second half. Using their length and headiness in their trademark half-court zone D, Johnstown held Newark Catholic to just five points in the third. In the quarter, the sophomore Lusk really got going, hitting a three and using his physicality to scrap under the boards and convert on contested looks, leading his team to a 38-17 lead after three.
Newark Catholic’s struggles continued in the fourth, and the duo of Hazelbaker and Lusk on offense proved too much to overcome for the home Green Wave. Keeping a more than 20 point margin for much of the period, the Johnnies were able to insert their reserves with more than three minutes remaining and ride out a 46-28 league win over Newark Catholic.
Roesink led the way for Newark Catholic with 14 points; he was the only Green Wave player to score more than two baskets from the field. Senior leader Heath Jeffries, a recent Ohio Northern commit, was limited to just four points due to the stifling defense of Hazelbaker. Newark Catholic falls to 4-13 on the year.
The two-headed monster of Lusk and Hazelbaker lead the way the whole way for the Johnnies. The senior Hazelbaker dropped 18 points and nine boards, while Lusk had 17 himself as well as six boards. Sophomore point guard Gavin Foe stuffed the stat sheet with six points, five rebounds, and three assists. Johnstown climbs to 12-2 on the year and is firmly in the driver's seat of the LCL Cardinal division.
Owen Hazelbaker (6’7 PF / Johnstown / 2019): The senior big man already has his college destination set, and his future teammates at West Liberty will be amazed, aside from his obvious skill by the effort, leadership, and preparation Hazelbaker brings to his team. Hazelbaker is constantly talking on both ends of the court, sometimes even looking as though he has studied the others teams plays and committed them to memory, and exudes a type on court presence that shows why a program like West Liberty would come knocking.
The senior has an inside-out offensive game, exhibiting a number of post moves and positioning himself on the block for easy buckets off of drive and dishes, and showed on Saturday that he is more than capable of burying open outside looks. While Johnstown plays at a slower pace that is common in the LCL, Hazelbaker will be more than ready to adjust to West Liberty's lightning quick tempo next year. Look for Hazelbaker to take over the Cardinal division of the LCL and lead his Johnstown team deep into the Division III tournament with his big stature and game.
Jake Lusk (6’3 PF / Johnstown / 2021): The young Lusk has started since day one in whatever sport he has played at Johnstown, staring on the hardwood as well as the gridiron, and shown a physicality beyond his years in both sports. A versatile forward, the sophomore has a smooth overall game that includes being just as comfortable handling the ball outside the arc as he is under the basket, and Lusk makes the most of every opportunity he has with the ball in his hands as a compliment to Hazelbaker. Lusk is a workhorse on both ends and has abundant energy to go along with his strong build, and he throws his weight around well which leads to looks around the rim. The sophomore has an intriguing game, and while he will most likely be a college football prospect at defensive end as he heads into his upperclassman years, look for Lusk to be one of the more effective sophomores in the area on a team considered one of the best in their district.