AURORA — T.J. Henderson would have felt comfortable playing against just about any team in the opening round of the postseason.
Cleveland John F. Kennedy was not one of them.
"They were the one team I was hoping not to see in the first round," the Aurora second-year head boys basketball coach admitted.
Henderson certainly felt uneasy seeing his team butt heads with the athletic and speedy Fighting Eagles. In the end, though, there was no reason to fret.
That’s because Henderson’s Greenmen have at least one more game to play.
Host Aurora, the seventh seed, advanced to a Stow-Munroe Falls Division II sectional title game after cruising past 10th-seeded JFK 76-54 Tuesday.
With the victory, the Greenmen (11-12) get another crack at second-seeded Gilmour Academy. The Lancers lit up Aurora 96-77 on the Greemen’s home floor Jan. 10.
If there was one guiding light in that defeat, it was this: Aurora outscored Gilmour 47-37 in the second half.
"Gilmour is extremely talented," Henderson said. "There is some hope. We know we can play with them, but we have to play 32 minutes with them."
Monday’s opponent wasn’t a slouch by any means, either.
The Fighting Eagles (11-10) featured several standouts who were quicker and more athletic than some of the Aurora players.
However, the Greenmen were able to frustrate JFK with particularly strong play in the even-numbered quarters.
Aurora outscored the Fighting Eagles 20-12 in the second period to take a 38-28 lead and then put it away with a 21-7 spurt in the final eight minutes.
"They are athletic, they’re very good and they’re quick," Henderson said. "They do a lot of nice stuff."
The Greenmen had their pockets picked from time to time and they struggled to get their fast-break attack going due to JFK’s relentless determination to grab offensive rebounds.
Although the two teams canceled each other out when it came to the overall work on the glass, the Fighting Eagles flustered the Aurora players by securing a mind-boggling 24 offensive rebounds.
"It’s something we’re going to drill a lot in the next two days," Henderson said. "We don’t have kids that jump and have both hands over the rim all the time.
"To do that and play underneath the rim, you have to be able to box out and move people out so you can get those easier rebounds."
JFK couldn’t snatch every ball off the iron, though.
Such a fact put the Fighting Eagles in a precarious position as shots stopped falling during the latter portion of the game.
And when JFK stumbled, the Greenmen rose to the occasion.
Ethan Hays, who was a nonfactor in the first half because of foul trouble, sizzled when he returned from the locker room.
He scored 21 of his 27 points in the final 16 minutes mainly on smooth, gliding pursuits to the rim. Those attacks led to a number of layups and floaters for the offensively gifted junior guard/forward, who is the team’s leading scorer.
"I think that’s his natural ability," Henderson said of Hays’ uncanny ability to locate the rim. "He works on that stuff. He didn’t play almost the whole first half. And then he has 27 points.
"When he gets that attack mode and he puts his shoulders down, he does some shifty things. It’s hard to teach that kind of stuff. He gives us fits all day in practice."
Henderson also has been downright giddy about junior forward Lenny Feckner, who started the season on the junior varsity team.
It’s safe to say that Feckner, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, has adjusted beautifully to the glitz and glamour of varsity hoops.
"I love the kid," Henderson said. "He has been working his butt off all year doing nothing but improving.
"He started off a little rusty and then had to claw his way back. He had some ups and downs throughout the year.
"As the year kept coming along, it was like we’ll try him here or we’ll try him here and he stepped up. He has been fantastic the last couple of months."
Feckner, a post player who has no interest in modern-day analytics, is a bit of a throwback these days since teams prefer to stretch the floor and make the 3-point shot the entrée on their menus.
"He does some really nice things," Henderson said. "We like to joke because he has that old man’s game. He doesn’t try to beat you up in the air. He’ll sort of use his feet and body a little bit to finish around the rim, which is really fun to watch."
Furb Mitchell led the Fighting Eagles with 20 points and Markied Bouldin and Raquan Bryant added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for JFK. Other than their big three, though, the Fighting Eagles didn’t get much scoring punch from anyone else.
The Greenmen, on the other hand, were far more nourished.
A total of nine players scored at least two points for Aurora, which had its usual unfortunate lapse just when it seemed like it had all of the momentum.
The Greenmen built their advantage to 17 (52-35) at one point in the third quarter. But after a couple of careless turnovers and a few other empty possessions, Aurora saw its lead shrink to just eight (55-47) heading into the final eight minutes.
Nonetheless, the job was completed despite some faulty equipment. The next agenda is to prep for a Lancers’ squad that left a bitter taste in the Greenmen’s mouth during the regular season.
"We took care of business," Henderson said. "We did what we had to do to get the W."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.