TALLMADGE — As his team continued to plunge into a hopeless abyss, Tallmadge head boys basketball coach Bill Johnson had an unfortunate confession to make to his players.
"Dead honest truth, I told them, ‘I don’t know if we can win,’" he said.
It’s a safe bet Johnson will never be mentioned among the biblical prophets such as Moses and Elijah.
And that was just fine with the blue-and-gold contingent.
The host Blue Devils earned a thrilling 65-61 victory over Barberton Tuesday at James O. Maddox Court. With the win, Tallmadge improved to 4-7 overall and 2-4 in the Suburban League American Conference. The Magics dropped to 7-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference.
To say the Blue Devils’ victory was a bit stunning would be putting it lightly.
At one point, Tallmadge trailed by 21 (43-22) early in the third quarter. Barberton made five 3-pointers in the first eight minutes and took advantage of several fast breaks, thanks to the Blue Devils’ slippery fingers. Tallmadge committed 16 turnovers in the first half.
Thus, Johnson’s message to his players had something to do with a simple five-letter word.
"We went into the locker room and said, ‘We trust in what we’re doing; we trust in each other; we just have to execute,’" Johnson said.
The Blue Devils did just that.
They outscored the Magics 24-9 in the third period to cut their deficit to five (49-44). Seven different players scored for Tallmadge in the quarter.
The Blue Devils took their first lead (53-52) when senior guard/forward Brandon Heigelmann got a loose ball and went coast to coast for a layup.
Heigelmann, who struggled at times, followed with a wide-open 3-pointer from the right side off an assist from freshman guard Ty Hurst to make it 56-52.
The Magics cut their margin to a single point (59-58) when senior guard Bradley Eagle forced a turnover before eventually finishing with a layup.
Moments later, Barberton had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds. The ball went to junior point guard D’Lawrence Scott, who attacked the paint and took a short jumper.
His shot never reached the rim.
Six-foot-5 senior post player Danny Kurko blocked it with approximately two seconds remaining. Junior guard Nicholas Lambacher then sealed Tallmadge’s improbable win with two free throws with a second left.
Kurko led the Blue Devils with 14 points and nine rebounds and Heigelmann scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore guard Kyle Ries added 10 points for Tallmadge, which got at least three points from nine different players.
"We executed and took care of the basketball," Johnson said. "Making shots is contagious and we made a few."
Junior guard Jamair Blackmon led the Magics with 16 points, including 12 in the second half, and Scott and Eagle contributed 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Johnson hopes this dramatic win helps his team turn the corner. The Blue Devils had dropped their last two games heading into Tuesday.
"It has been rough the last week and a half," Johnson said. "To be down and come back and do that, boy, it says a lot about who we are."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.