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.
"We did a good job of letting the game come to us instead of forcing things," Tallmadge second-year head coach Bill Johnson said. "We needed it. We got five of our first six on the road. We needed to win. I’m proud of the guys for doing that."
Heigelmann, who struggled with his shot at times and also had some turnovers in bunches, thanks to Aurora’s relentless defense, scored a team-high 23 points.
But the Blue Devils, who trailed 16-5 early, got contributions from several of their 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 Tallmadge. Sweet-shooting junior wing Ethan Taylor added 12 points for the Blue Devils, including two 3-pointers in the third quarter.
"That was a game that Ethan Taylor stepped up huge for us," Johnson said. "That’s the kind of play we’ve seen from him. It’s going to take us some games to get comfortable. I thought [Tuesday] was as comfortable as he could be."
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 after a defensive rebound. The Blue Devils wound up getting three free-throw attempts when sophomore guard Kyle Ries got fouled. Ries buried all three freebies to give Tallmadge a 31-24 halftime lead.
"I give Kyle a ton of credit," Johnson said. "Kyle wasn’t getting a ton of minutes. I could see his confidence was wavering.
"I talked to him and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go play two quarters of JV [junior varsity] and just get your confidence up a little bit? We want to give you more playing time.’ He was like, ‘Yeah coach, I would love to do that.’
"A lot of kids wouldn’t do that. They would say, ‘Coach, I’m a varsity player.’ Not him. He wants to play; he wants to get better; he wants to be better for our program."
The Blue Devils delivered a critical blow to the Greenmen 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 toward 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.
"Here’s the thing about Danny: You’ll probably never look at the stat sheet and say, ‘Man, he just lit it up,’" Johnson said. "He’s a hard kid to take off the floor because he works his tail off on every single possession.
"We ask him to guard guards; we ask him to guard posts; we ask him to get every rebound. He just does it. He does what he needs to do. You can’t ask for a better leader than that."
Although Aurora played catch up for much of the second half, it managed to keep the game close for nearly three quarters, thanks to its full-court pressure. The Greenmen forced 21 turnovers.
Despite the miscues, Johnson lauded the play of junior point guard Nick Lambacher, who has been the team’s "Steady Eddie" throughout the season.
"Nick just kind of went out and played his game," Johnson said. "We’ve talked before about being steady. I thought Nick was steady when they were pressuring us. He also kind of pushed himself more to be aggressive and try to create some different things, which I thought was really good for us."
Senior guard/forward Ethan Hays had a game-high 24 points and junior guard Gabe Elsawy and senior guard Jack Deptola contributed 13 and 10 points, respectively, for Aurora, which cooled down considerably after a fast start.
"It was tough for us early on," Johnson said. "It looked like we were flat. I think sometimes when you’re playing your first home game, there’s a lot of emotion that goes into that.
"They want to put on a show for the home crowd. We kind of talked ourselves into, ‘We have to go out and be fired up,’ and the air just kind of let out of the balloon.
"I thought [Tuesday] was the night all five guys on the floor really jelled and played together. We moved the ball and got great shots on a lot of possessions."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.