GATES MILLS — When most of the crowd departed and the scoreboard was turned off, T.J. Henderson may have needed someone to pinch him.
Fortunately for the Aurora second-year head boys basketball coach, he wasn’t dreaming.
“This is a feeling that will last forever,” Henderson said.
The Greenmen’s season will continue thanks to a stunning 89-84 upset over host Gilmour Academy Friday in Gates Mills.
With the win, seventh-seeded Aurora (12-12) is scheduled to play third-seeded Cleveland Benedictine in a district semifinal contest next Thursday. The Bengals crushed Chagrin Falls 81-46 to advance.
The Greenmen’s showdown with Benedictine is set to take place at Stow-Munroe Falls High School’s James G. Tyree Gymnasium. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m.
“We do what we’re supposed to do,” said senior guard Justin Gentile, who knocked down six 3-pointers and all 10 of his free throws en route to a 30-point evening. “We play as a team; we play together. When we do that, we’re scary.”
As for the Lancers, they may have wondered what hit them.
When the two teams met Jan. 12 at Aurora High School, second-seeded Gilmour clearly showed who was boss with a 96-77 victory.
This time, the Greenmen played the role of masters and the Lancers were unexpectedly forced to be Aurora’s servants.
The Greenmen, thanks to four 3-pointers and 14 points by Gentile, blasted their way out of the gates to take a 26-20 first-quarter lead.
It was a thriller the rest of the way as neither team took its foot off the gas.
The Lancers (17-6) made a run and actually led 40-36 on a 3-pointer by 6-foot-5 junior forward Garrett Olsen.
But Aurora weathered the storm and made all of the clutch plays down the stretch in a breathtaking seesaw affair.
In the end, it was free-throw shooting that made the difference.
The Greenmen made 14 of 15 foul shots in the final eight minutes, which included eight in a row by Gentile.
“I was just stone cold,” Gentile said. “I looked at the rim and shot. I practice free throws all the time. My dad rebounds for me when I shoot free throws.”
Gentile wasn’t the Greenmen’s only big-time offensive machine on this night.
Aurora’s leading scorer, junior guard/forward Ethan Hays, also finished with 30 points, mainly on smooth, gliding attacks to the basket.
More importantly, the determined Hays was particularly satisfied to see his up-and-down team silence a plethora of doubters.
“Coming into the game, we were the only ones who thought we could take them down,” Hays said. “Everybody wrote us off. We had the confidence inside the locker room to take them down.”
Aurora survived despite a barrage of 3-pointers. Gilmour knocked down 12 from long distance.
The Greenmen did a much better job of neutralizing the Lancers’ top two scorers, senior guard C.J. Charleston and 6-3 junior Connor O’Toole.
That prolific duo torched Aurora for a combined 65 points in January. While Charleston still scored 30, O’Toole finished with just 14 points this time. Olsen added 18 points for Gilmour.
Senior forward Jack Arnold contributed 10 points and seven rebounds for the Greenmen, who had 21 assists and finished with a 30-23 edge on the glass.
As for Henderson, he couldn’t stop reminiscing. When his players leave West Pioneer Trail and eventually become adults, Henderson has a feeling they will keep Friday’s performance stored in their heads forever.
“They will always look back at this and be able to say 10 years from now, ‘Remember when we beat Gilmour?’” Henderson said. “‘Oh man, that was fun.’”