TALLMADGE — For much of the evening, the Aurora boys basketball team held Tallmadge’s star player in check.
Fortunately for Blue Devils’ senior guard/forward Brandon Heigelmann, his friends were more than happy to pick up the slack.
Host Tallmadge picked up its first Suburban League American Conference win of the season after defeating Aurora 72-61 Tuesday at James O. Maddox Court.
With the victory, the Blue Devils improved to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the conference. The Greenmen, who have lost three straight games, dropped to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the conference.
Heigelmann, who struggled with his shot for much of the evening and also had some turnovers in bunches, thanks to Aurora’s relentless defense, scored a team-high 23 points.
But Tallmadge, which trailed 16-5 early, got contributions from several of its unheralded players.
Senior guard Luke Thomas finished with 15 points and 6-foot-5 senior post player Danny Kurko had 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Blue Devils. Junior wing Ethan Taylor added 12 points for the Blue Devils, including two 3-pointers in the third quarter.
"Coming in, that was our big thing," Greenmen head coach T.J. Henderson said. "We try to stop him [Heigelmann] because he’s one heck of a player. He’s really their engine. Once he gets going, usually the rest of them get going.
"Our big goal was to try and eliminate him, which I thought we did. Unfortunately for us, as we’ve done the past couple games, we’ve given up a lot of extra rebounds, extra possessions. They [the Blue Devils] made them count when they needed to count."
Tallmadge had a knack for finishing strong.
The Blue Devils scored the last seven points of the first period to cut their deficit to 16-12.
That trend repeated itself in the second and third quarters, as well.
In the final seconds of the first half, Tallmadge found itself on a fast break and wound up getting three free throw attempts when sophomore guard Kyle Ries got fouled. Ries buried all three freebies to give the Blue Devils a 31-24 halftime lead.
"We shot with eight seconds left and gave them the ability to get down the floor, get a shot off and a foul," Henderson said. "It’s just mental mistakes. That’s what really has been hurting us."
Tallmadge delivered a critical blow to Aurora in the final moments of the third quarter.
After an initial shot was missed, Kurko was able to save the ball. With his back facing the court, Kurko desperately fired the ball back out to the perimeter from over his head.
Like a GPS, Kurko’s toss reached "its destination."
The ball landed in Heigelmann’s hands on the right side. Without hesitation, Heigelmann calmly unleashed a shot from there.
The result was nothing but net.
That backbreaking triple gave Tallmadge a 53-41 lead and more importantly, a conference win against a challenging opponent.
Although the Greenmen played catch up for much of the second half, they managed to keep the game close for nearly three quarters, thanks to their full-court pressure. Aurora forced 21 turnovers.
Senior guard/forward Ethan Hays had a game-high 24 points and junior guard Gabe Elsawy contributed 13 points for the Greenmen.
"Our big thing is one play here, one play there," Henderson said. "Be the turning point of what our games are. We’re trying to eliminate those mental mistakes and that way, we can start focusing on the good things because when we’re clicking, it’s nice. It’s fun to watch."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.