HUDSON — It wasn’t pretty, by any stretch of the imagination, but the third time was the charm for the Nordonia boys’ basketball team.
After losing to Suburban League rival Hudson 72-67 early in the 2018-19 campaign and falling again by a 69-40 count Jan. 25 at Hudson, the Knights turned things around in a first round Sectional game at Hudson Feb. 27.
Nordonia took the third meeting 39-31 to advance to play third seeded Garfield Heights Sunday.
The 11th-seeded Knights then gave the Bulldogs everything they could handle Sunday before falling 56-46.
Nordonia finished the season at 11-12.
"It’s tough to do," Hudson coach Jeff Brink said of beating any team three times in one season. "We prepared for a dogfight. We knew it was going to be a tough game. They (the Knights) are a good team, they have playing good basketball."
Nordonia went into "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium with a chip on their shoulders and a nice run to end the regular season.
"The first game we played at our place was close. We were 9-23 from the line," Knights Coach Matt Cash said. "Coach Brink had them ready here and they stopped us (in late January); there was no excuse. That left a sour taste on our kids’ mouth and they wanted to prove that we can compete. We have won seven out of ten now to end the year."
It was obvious for most of the night the team that came out on top would win with defense. In the end Nordonia held the hosts to just 28 percent shooting from the floor (11-39). The Knights were not a whole lot better at 36 percent (16-44), but they did make 6-12 in the fourth quarter to hold off a late Hudson rally.
"Defensively we were focused in. If you watched us all year sometimes we struggle to score. Coach Brink had a good game plan by face-guarding Evan [Wiehe]," Cash noted. "Evan’s our leading scorer averaging 15 a game.
"We try to run our offense through him, but they were face-guarding him so were able to do some different things and get other guys opportunities … and we just dug in at the defensive end. Our kids, to their credit, for 32 minutes stuck with the game plan; they did a great job."
Nordonia took an early 8-2 lead scoring eight straight after a quick Jack Burdett deuce started the game in the right direction for the Explorers. Burdett ended with five points and a game high nine rebounds.
On Hudson’s next ten possessions, after Burdett’s lay-up 16 seconds into the game, the hosts had five turnovers and five missed shots.
The Explorers William Wallace brought his squad back going 3-3 at the free throw line and adding a drive for two in the final seconds of the first quarter. Hudson trailed 8-7 after one. Wallace ended his career with a game-high 17-point effort.
The lead changed hands four times midway through the second period. The final lead change came with 3:58 left in the first half when the Knights Gabe Byrd drilled a jumper from the foul line to put his team on top 12-11. Nordonia would lead the rest of the way
The Knights had trouble with Hudson’s tight man defense on Wiehe early. Despite leading 12-11 the visitors were 0-10 from outside the three-point arc and were just 6-20 from the field but eight forced turnovers kept the Knights on top.
Wiehe finally ended the 0-for from downtown making a triple with 3:29 left in the half. The Explorers failed to score for the final 4:08 of the first half as Nordonia built a 20-11 halftime lead with a 10-0 spurt.
That run would be the difference as Hudson made a couple runs but could never get over the hump.
For most of the third quarter the Knights could not get anything going. Nordonia turned the ball over seven times and missed their first five shots in the second half.
While Hudson’s defense turned up the pressure defensively early in the second half the offense struggled. However a 7-0 run highlighted by a three by Brad McCormick closed the gap to 20-18.
The Explorers missed two shots at the tie and then Gabe Byrd responded for Nordonia. The 6-0 senior scored all of the Knights four points in the stanza in the final 78 seconds. His drive to two ended a 7:46 scoreless spell and widened the lead to 22-18 with 1:18 on the third period clock.
A huge score came in the final seconds when a rebound tie-up under the Nordonia basket gave the visitors the last shot with a couple ticks on the clock. Byrd took the inbound pass and drained a deep two-pointer at the buzzer. Nordonia led 24-18 after three.
Byrd led the Knights with 12 points.
Both teams improved their shooting in the fourth quarter. Hudson was 4-10 and the Knights 6-12. Wallace and teammate Anthony Chokenea each hit threes early in the fourth but in between Wiehe got his second trey of the game.
Trailing 27-24 Hudson nearly pulled even but as Wallace was pulling the trigger on the game-tying triple the hosts were called for a three second violation negating the three at the 6:10 mark. Hudson missed another chance at the tie before the Knights began to put the game away.
Byrd’s steal and breakaway lay-in with 4:10 left made it a two-point possession again (29-24). A minute later Julius Jones hit a pull-up jumper (31-24) and the Explorers were forced to sell out with a full court press. Justin Byrd and Robbie Levak (twice) beat the pressure for easy scores as the visitors pulled away.
Levak and Jones each had six points for the game.
Nordonia knew it was playing with house money as it headed into the Garfield Heights game.
"It’s a great challenge (playing Garfield Heights). Sonny (Johnson) has done a heck of a job up there. It’s going to be a great challenge for our kids to go up there in Sunday afternoon and fight tooth and nail and try to pull off an upset," Cash said. "No one expects much out of us …so we have no pressure. It’s a great opportunity for our kids."
Nordonia nearly seized that opportunity, as the Knights trailed just 44-41 after three quarters at Garfield Heights. However, the Bulldogs’ outscored the Knights 14-5 in the final eight minutes to secure their berth in the district semifinals.
In his final game as a Knight, Wiehe led Nordonia with 20 points, including six 3-pointers. Julius Jones put up 10 points.
Garfield Heights was led by 21 points from Demetrius Johnson Jr.