HUDSON — Who would step up and be the hero?
Which team would the hero lift to victory?
With the score close all night, those questions may have been people’s minds as Friday’s game reached the final stages.
In the end, there was one answer to both of those questions.
His name is Joel Jones.
Thanks to the 6-foot-4 junior’s heroics, the Nordonia boys basketball team earned a 48-47 victory over host Hudson at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
Jones drained two free throws to give the Knights the one-point lead with 10.7 seconds left and then he swatted away an Explorers’ attempt from the paint in the final seconds.
"He [Jones] is an intangible guy for us," said first-year Nordonia head coach Dominique Sanders, whose team improved to 2-3 overall and 2-1 in the Suburban League National Conference. "He’s great. His athleticism is probably the best on our team.
"We ask a lot from him. He’s a guy that has been there in the moment, one of our few guys who have varsity experience. He came up big for us with those free throws as well as the block to seal it.
Jones scored eight points, including six in the final eight minutes.
"They [the Knights] worked their butts off," said Hudson head coach Jeff Brink, whose team fell to 1-2 overall and 1-2 in the conference. "It was a tremendous effort on their part. They were gritty and tough and made hustle plays all night. When you’re in a game like that, that comes down to one possession, those kinds of plays pay off in the long run."
The Explorers led 12-10 after one period, 24-23 at the half and 36-31 heading into the fourth quarter. The game was tied four times in the first half and Nordonia had more than one opportunity through the first 30 minutes of action to take its first lead. However, the Knights just couldn’t do it.
"The whole game we were back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, but we actually haven’t had a lead," Sanders said. "We battled and battled and battled, but we haven’t gotten over the hump. We challenged our guys in the timeout to dig deep and keep fighting and they did that. Fortunately, it came at the end."
Nordonia finally got over the hump for the first time with 2:07 left when senior forward Josh Malone drove down the right side of the lane for a 3-point play and a 46-44 lead. Malone led all scorers with 16 points.
Hudson’s Jack Burdett answered at the other end with a putback to knot things up at 46 with 1:28 to go. The 6-foot-6 fourth-year veteran had his 20th career double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds to go along with seven assists.
The Knights were denied after Burdett tied things up when Peyton Koscho blocked Jones inside and a jump ball was called. The possession arrow favored Hudson.
The Explorers went to Burdett again and he was fouled putting back his own miss. Burdett had Nordonia’s post defenders in foul trouble as they tried to stop him one-on-one most of the night. Starting post Clay McMillan and reserve Logan Jankowski both ended with four fouls. Jankowski scored seven points as did McMillan.
"We knew how tough he [Burdett] is," Sanders said. "He is a workhorse. He establishes his position very well and he uses his frame to secure the basketball. He is hard to defend without a double, but we didn’t want them to shoot from the perimeter because once they get going in this atmosphere, it’s tough to withhold. So we went one-on-one."
Burdett gave Hudson a 47-46 advantage, hitting the first free throw with 48.9 seconds on the clock. His second shot found iron and Malone cleared for the Knights.
Nordonia called timeout and then worked for the game winner. Again, the Knights were denied when Burdett, blocked a shot inside and corralled the rebound, as well.
It was time for another hero for Nordonia.
Anthony Lee picked off the outlet pass with 13 seconds left and set up Jones for his heroic finish.
After Jones’ block of Burdett in the final seconds, Hudson had one more chance when Brad McCormick chased down the ball in the right corner. His hurried, whirling off-balance shot from the corner was off target.
The turnover, Lee’s steal, was the 14th of the game for the Explorers who made just 19-of-51 shots from the floor. Hudson also outrebounded the Knights 42-25.
"The bottom line is, we didn’t execute well the entire game," Brink said. "We have to be better in terms of execution and decision making," Brink summed up. "We had to miss 14-15 layups. Our failure to finish in traffic hurt us. We gave away way too many points. It was turnovers and blown layups that put us in a position to lose games like that."
The largest lead of the night for the Explorers was seven points and it came early in the fourth quarter.
"This is a tough opponent," Sanders said. "They are very well-coached. We understood that they like to run in transition, but we withheld their runs. Defense is what we hang our hat on."
Ganaway backed Burdett with 11 points, hitting three long-range 3-pointers. Tyler Miller added nine points and David Gentry scored eight points.