BROADVIEW HEIGHTS — Dominique Sanders had to wonder which Nordonia boys basketball squad was going to show up Friday night.
Would it be the one that rattled off four straight wins playing solid defense in December?
Or would it be the team that laid an egg the previous week vs. Massillon Perry?
In practices after the Perry loss, Sanders gave his players plenty of "reminders." Keep in mind, "reminders" is Sanders’ term for gassers or suicide drills.
The Knights got the message because Nordonia fully engaged Friday at Brecksvill-Broadview Heights.
In the end, the two-time defending Suburban League National Conference champions just made a few more plays down the stretch.
Nordonia rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime, only to drop a 41-38 loss to Brecksville at the Beehive.
Nordonia fell to 4-5, 3-2 in the National Conference, while Breckville improved to 7-2, 4-1 in conference.
While it was a tough loss to take, Sanders was happy with his team, noting the effort was there for the full 36 minutes.
"We knew they were a very well-coached, physical team," Sanders said. "Playing on the road against the two-time defending champions, you can live with the effort we had tonight."
Bees coach Steve Mehalik paid tribute to the Knights.
"They’re good. I think coach Sanders is doing a great job with them," Mehalik said. "They closed out on all our shooters. They play great defense."
Both teams were down a starter for the game, with the Knights still missing Jon Henderson, while Brecksville was without Tommy Barth due to a thumb injury.
The Knights started the game in perfect fashion, rushing out to a 12-0 lead as its defense clamped down on the Bees.
Leading the charge for Nordonia was sophomore Cooper Rusk. Not only did Rusk score a career-high 13 points, but he often drew the defensive assignment on Bees starter Joe Labas.
"Cooper is my guy," Sanders said. "That’s a team player right there. He’s willing to be coached. He’s willing to take on the other team’s best player."
Nordonia led 12-4 after one quarter, but the Bees then engaged their three-quarter court press to slow the Knights. Also, Labas started to find his range.
"We know how play some pretty good defense, too," Mehalik said. "Joe got hot. We got him the ball bit farther from the basket and he made some shots.
With the Knights still up 15-8 midway through the second quarter, Labas keyed an 11-2 run to end the first half, including a three-pointer just before the buzzer.
Labas had 14 of his game-high 20 point in the first half.
"In the second quarter, we started playing a bit more of a one-on-one game, because we had a lead," Sanders said. "You’ve got to be able to stick to the game plan on the road."
Nordonia seemed to do everything right on offense for long stretches — except finish. The Knights had numerous layup rim out and went just 1-of-5 from the free-throw line.
Forward Roberty Watson was emblematic of the Knights’ struggle. Watson was was all over the court, finishing with 11 rebounds, but finished with only seven points.
"I think we’ve got to get him in better position to score for those situations," Sanders said.
The Knights’ defense kept them in the game, but Nordonia trailed 27-22 after third quarter.
After a wild scramble yielded a 3-pointer by Labas, Nordonia took timeout trailing 36-27 with 3:07 left in regulation. However, the Knights would not allow the Bees to score down the stretch.
Knight forward Josh Malone hit a three-pointer to the lead to 36-34. Nordonia then committed four quick fouls to put Brecksville in the bonus and Bees guar JC Sejba missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Knights then were able to force overtime when Watson cut the basket to hit a layup with 1.7 seconds left. Labas could not get his shot off before the buzzer.
However, Nordonia would never lead in overtime, as Sejba was able to hit three-pointer to start the extra session,
"We were lucky to make just one more play," Mehalik said. "I think that three-pointer at the start [of overtime] allowed up to control it."
Nordonia got a jumper from Joel Jones to cut the score to 39-38, but that would be the Knights’ only points of overtime.
Bees guard Ryan Knaack hit 1-of-2 free throws with 12 seconds left to help ice the game.
Nordonia will host Cuyahoga Falls Tuesday before traveling to North Royalton Friday. Tip time for both games is at 7:30 p.m.