SALEM-Halfway through the season, Salem boys basketball coach Rich Hart was pleased with how his inexperienced squad was battling and thought perhaps 10 or 11 wins did not sound unreasonable.
However, a grim two weeks have drastically altered the picture.
As if losing their leading scorer Max Wolfgang for the season weren't enough, the Quakers learned before Friday's game against Canton South that third-leading scorer Mike Ciotti was lost for the season with a torn meniscus suffered Wednesday night against Beaver Local.
Salem's injury depleted frontcourt was easily handled by the much-taller Wildcats in a 63-42 loss Friday at Cabas Gymnasium.
Salem lost its sixth straight game, falling to 6-14 overall and closing the Northeastern Buckeye Conference slate at 5-9. Canton South improves to 10-9 and 8-5 NBC.
"We were starting to get comfortable playing with each other and now the last two weeks it's all been totally different," Salem senior guard Ryan Hoover said. "We've had to try a bunch of different lineups and we've lost almost all our size. It's been a hard adjustment."
Without any reliable post presence, the Quakers had no answer for Canton South's 6-foot-8 Mathias Nicoletti, who had 26 points and seven rebounds. The Quakers were outrebounded 38-15. Point guard Malik Campbell chipped in eight points, five assists and five steals for the Wildcats.
"It's very difficult when he (Nicoletti) is 6-foot-8 and our guys are 6-foot," Salem coach Rich Hart said. "He should have scored 26 tonight."
"We had nobody to match up with him," Hoover said.
Hoover was a bright spot for the Quakers with 12 points including three three-pointers, but Salem did not get closer than 15 points after the second quarter.
"I thought Ryan shot the ball well tonight," Hart said. "He is getting some confidence. We are going to need some outside shooting going forward."
After Salem led 12-11 after a quarter, the Wildcats methodically took over, frequently scoring inside and getting second chances off their rebounding, while the Quakers could generate no offense in the second quarter.
"I've never lost two of my best players in that short a stretch near the end of the season," Salem coach Rich Hart said. "Both Max and Mike play the exact same position which makes it even more tough. This time of year you don't have much time to recover."
Canton South won the jayvee game 36-34. Trey Toothman had seven points for the Quakers.
Hart feels optimistic heading into the sectional tournament in two weeks. The Quakers play at Ravenna Southeast on Feb. 26.
"We were fortunate with the draw to stay away from Poland and Canfield," Hart said. "Southeast is not as tall as some other teams so we should be able to match up."
Salem's 6-foot-6 senior forward Carter Rose saw his most action of the season Friday. Rose has spent most of his career on the jayvee team and is coming back from a torn ACL last year.
CANTON SOUTH: 11-22-17-13-63
CANTON SOUTH SCORING: Malik Campbell 4-0-8, Josh Lyon 1-0-2, Garrett Crum 0-2-2, Gunnar Tharp 4-0-9, Mathias Nicoletti 12-0-24, Kole Ickes1-0-2, Demetrius Barrino 2-0-4, Greg Allison 2-3-7, Charlie Parsons 1-0-2, Nathan Hicks 1-1-3, Tristan Larsen 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 28, 6-13: 63.
SALEM SCORING: D.J. Pullie 5-1-13, Mark Fredrickson 2-0-4, Andrew Dolphin 1-0-3, Mike Popa 1-0-2, Ryan Hoover 4-1-12, Carter Rose 1-0-2, Jake Bezon 0-0-0, Alex Weikart 0-0-0, Tyler Schaffer 1-0-2, Trey Toothman 0-0-0, Brandon Weikart 2-0-4, Nick Rusyn 0-0-0, Matt Weingart 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 15, 2-4: 42.
Three-point goals: Canton South 1 (Tharp), Salem 6 (Hoover 3, Pullie 2, Dolphin).