CUYAHOGA FALLS — Coaches often talk about "establishing a culture" within their programs, but doing so can take years in high school basketball.
Over the last 17 years, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy’s Jay Peters has honed the Royals’ culture to a fine edge. CVCA plays hard-nosed, fundamental basketball regardless of its talent level.
Even though he is nearing the end of his first year in charge, Nordonia coach Dominique Sanders knows the process of establishing a "#uKnighted" culture — as the Knights’ T-shirts say — is just beginning.
CVCA showed its versatility and shooting prowess Tuesday, hitting from the field early and from the free-throw line late to score a 62-51 win over the Knights at Tim Beyerle Memorial Gymnasium.
CVCA improved to 15-4 on the season, while Nordonia dropped to 5-14.
Peters credited the Knights for staying after it for the full game.
"It was a pretty physical game," Peters said. "They were trying to be physical and make us turn the ball over. Credit to Nordonia; they never gave up. Fortunately, we made our free throws down the stretch."
CVCA ended up going 22-of-33 from the line, but the Royals nailed their first 10 fourth-quarter free throws to thwart the Knights’ comeback attempt. Nordonia went 10-of-15 from the line.
Sanders noted he couldn’t fault his team’s defense, but CVCA just had too many weapons.
"We kind of threw everything at them, man-to-man, zone, full-court press," Sanders said. "Their coach made a great adjustment moving their big guy into the middle of the paint and working off him."
"That’s a great team. They’re well coached. They have so many guys who can beat you,"
Peters also noted CVCA’s versatility on offense was its strength. Early on, the Royals got a major lift off the bench from senior guard Gavin Judge.
Judge scored all seven of his points in the first quarter, helping CVCA close the quarter on a 17-6 run to take a 17-10 lead after one quarter.
CVCA then opened the quarter on a 6-0 run, forcing Sanders to call timeout with his team down 23-10 with 5:13 left in the half.
In what would become a theme in the game, however, Nordonia fought back.
The Knights kept chipping away until it closed the half on a 7-2 run. Guard Jon Henderson hit all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt with one second left, cutting CVCA’s lead to 30-23 at the half.
"I like the way we played in the first 13 minutes of the first half," Peters said. "I did not like the way we played in the final three minutes of the half. We were able to start the second half strong."
Indeed, the third quarter saw CVCA junior center Carter Scott take over.
Scott nailed three straight 3-pointers to open the half and was all over the boards in the second half for the Royals.
Scott finished with a game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds for CVCA.
"He’s a nice shooter," Peters said. "When he sets his feet, he can get hot. We’ve got a lot of guys who can hit from deep."
"We thought we did a good job defending him," Sanders said. "He was hitting some contested shots. We knew they were a good offensive team."
Down 46-32 after three quarters, Sanders turned up the full-court press to maximum intensity for the Knights.
The move was partially successful as the Knights were able to get several steals leading to layups. Reserve guard Luke Tyukodi scored all of his eight points in the fourth quarter.
However, CVCA’s free-throw shooting kept the Knights at bay as CVCA led by as many a 16 in the final quarter before Nordonia went on a late 6-0 run.
Knight forward Josh Malone split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 60-51 with 19 seconds left, but Nordonia would get no closer.
CVCA sophomore Andrew Hendrickx, who nailed 7-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter, hit a pair from the charity stripe with 16 seconds left to give the game its final margin. Hendrickx finished with 11 points.
Nordonia was led by nine points from Malone.
Peters praised his team for keeping its focus on the game and not looking ahead.
The Royals will travel to Wooster Triway Friday looking to avenge their lone loss in the Principals’ Athletic Conference.this winter.
Meanwhile, Nordonia was set to travel to Cuyahoga Falls Friday at 7 p.m.