MACEDONIA — It was a back and forth tussle.
Both the Hudson and host Nordonia boys basketball teams had their moments trying to put the other team on the canvas.
In the end, the Explorers prevailed 72-67 in a wild Suburban League National Conference battle Tuesday at Hugh Griffith Memorial Gymnasium in Macedonia.
"It came down to who could make the big play down the stretch and fortunately, we were able to do that," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said.
Brink could have said, "it came down to who could make the big free throws" instead of "big plays."
When the dust settled, it all came down to one team making them (the Explorers) and the other (the Knights) missing them.
Hudson’s Aaron Martin, who had been held in check for most of the game, went 7 of 7 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
The 6-foot senior scored the game’s final four points at the stripe, making two freebies with 18.2 seconds left and again with just 2.3 ticks remaining to ice the win. Martin had nine fourth-period points and 11 for the night.
Martin’s late hot streak helped the Explorers (2-1, 1-1), who committed an alarming 23 turnovers, make a complete reversal at the line.
Through more than two and a half games this season, Hudson was a dismal 9 of 30.
But the Explorers converted 12 of their final 13 to finish 14 of 20.
"Our fourth-quarter free-throw shooting was absolutely pivotal to the victory," Brink said.
At the other end of the court, Nordonia (1-2, 0-1) missed five of its six free throws in the final 3 minutes, 20 seconds and ended 9 of 21 for the game.
Before foul shots became critical down the stretch, it was a defensive struggle where steals and turnovers led to easy buckets for both teams.
The Knights’ tenacious full-court pressure forced Hudson into mistake after mistake, especially in the early going. The Explorers turned the ball over nine times in the opening period.
Despite those early miscues, Hudson jumped on top from the outset.
Nordonia could not take advantage of seven first-quarter steals.
The Explorers countered with five steals in the first eight minutes and turned the Knights over 19 times for the game.
When Nordonia didn’t lose the ball, it just couldn’t shoot. The Knights missed 13 of their first 16 shots and made just 24 of 58 for the game.
Hudson jumped out to an 18-5 lead late in the first with juniors Damani Ganaway-Glave making three 3-pointers and Jack Burdett grabbing nine rebounds. Ganaway-Glave ended with a career-high 24 points and five treys, while Burdett had a huge double-double with 16 points and 19 boards.
"Damani got us off to a good start and Jack was very active on the glass," Brink said.
Nordonia began to hit its shots, going on a 14-2 run. Six different Knights scored in the spurt that cut the deficit to one at 20-19. The hosts pulled even at 27-27 and took their first lead moments later.
Robby Levak, Josh Malone and Gabe Byrd all hit 3s in the final two minutes of the half to help Nordonia take a 33-32 lead at intermission.
Evan Wiehe scored a game-high 25 points and propelled the Knights into a double-digit advantage of their own, scoring 10 points in the first 4:48 of the third quarter. His fifth triple of the game with 3:12 left in the third put Nordonia on top 50-39.
Back came Hudson.
Two of the team’s unsung heroes for the night came through when the Explorers needed to answer.
Juniors Brad McCormick and Peyton Koscho came off the bench for a spark. McCormick hit a pair of triples and Koscho added a steal and layup. McCormick and Koscho scored six points apiece.
"That third-quarter run (16-3) was pretty impressive," Brink said. "Brad McCormick was awesome and Koscho gave us the grit and pivotal plays at the defensive end."
The unexpected scoring got Hudson to within four (53-49) before Ganaway-Glave scored two buckets inside followed by a Burdett spin down the lane for two more and an Explorers 55-53 lead after three.
The game was tied four times in the fourth quarter. William Wallace (nine points) gave Hudson the lead for good with a drive for two with 1:34 to play.
Nordonia missed its chance to answer, missing three straight charity tosses on one trip down the court.
Gabe Byrd salvaged one point making the fourth free throw to close the gap to 68-67 with 22.2 seconds left, but Martin came through in the clutch for the victory.
The Explorers cruised to a 56-38 win in the junior varsity contest. Tyler Miller led Hudson with 14 points. The Explorers’ freshman squad lost 54-53 in overtime.