KENT — It was like Smile Cam after the game for the grinning Greenmen.
Having lost so many close games, Aurora picked up its first Suburban American victory Friday, beating Kent Roosevelt, 44-41.
"It was big," Greenmen coach T.J. Henderson said. "Fantastic."
Three times, the Rough Riders (9-8, 4-5 Suburban American) landed what looked like deadly blows late in the fourth quarter.
Three times, Gabe Elsawy brought the Greenmen (4-11, 1-7) back to life as leading scorer Ethan Hays shook off an injury on the bench.
"He's our best scorer and I knew we needed to put points on the board some way," Elsawy said. "So I was just trying to be as aggressive as I could be and just get to the hole."
After junior guard Kristian Daetwyler gave Roosevelt a 38-35 lead on a beautiful floater with 3:10 remaining, Elsawy answered with a 3-pointer from well behind the arc 20 seconds later.
"Hand down, man down is what they say," Elsawy said. "I saw the opening and I just took it because I knew we were down by three and I was trying to tie the game back up."
After senior guard Zac Common put the Rough Riders ahead 41-38 with a tightly contested bank shot high off the glass with 2:40 left, Elsawy sprinted down the court for a fast-break layup to bring the Greenmen within a point.
"I was just trying to catch them off guard, like when they weren't expecting a quick drive," Elsawy said. "I got to the hoop."
And then following a Roosevelt miss, Elsawy took off again. This time, there was no easy lane to the bucket, but the Aurora junior managed to put the ball off glass nonetheless for the go-ahead score.
"I was trying to do it again and so I tried to take an angle," Elsawy said. "I kind of (got a) bad angle, so I tried to spin it off the glass and it fell."
Elsawy scored nine of his team-high 15 points in the final stanza.
"That’s the Gabe we know is there," Henderson said. "He has that ability and we've been waiting for it sort of to pop its head out and tonight was the night it came out and what a great night for it to happen."
Greenmen senior forward Lenny Feckner later added two free throws to extend the lead to 44-41.
"We have an inside joke like best free throw shooter in the state because we always shoot free throws together at practice and like me and him are pretty decent at free throws," Elsawy said. "As soon as he was on the line at the end, I knew (it)."
With Aurora guards Mason Bizjak and Jack Deptola working to deny Roosevelt guards Common and Daetwyler a clean look at a game-tying three, senior forward Tre Moxley took a tantalizing shot from the right wing — but the potential game-tying 3 rolled in and out.
"(Our guards) are scrappy as they come," Elsawy said. "Every game, every practice, they come with the same energy and it shows."
Such drama hardly seemed necessary early.
Knotted at eight with a minute remaining in the first quarter, the Greenmen went on a 15-2 run, starting with a pair of 3-pointers from sophomore Johnathan Ugran (8 points, 2-of-2 from deep). Ugran added a steal and fast-break finish 35 seconds into the second stanza to put Aurora up 16-8.
Roosevelt senior Zachary Holman answered with a 3-pointer, but Aurora rattled off seven more points to open a 23-11 lead — a jumper from junior forward Romeo Pitts, a 3-pointer from Elsawy (who went 3-of-5 from deep) and a fast-break lob from Hays to senior Jack Roche, who calmly hung in the air and laid the ball off glass.
The Rough Riders kept battling.
They scored the final four points of the first half to cut within 23-15 — on a brilliant up-and-under move from Common and a baseline inbound to Moxley for a layup. They added seven straight points to open the second half — capped by a 3-pointer from Common, who led Roosevelt with 11 points — to draw within 23-22.
"We got off to slow start," Rough Riders coach Christian Hunter said. "(We) turned the ball over a bunch early, but proud of the way our kids responded and fought back, especially in the third quarter, and they gave ourselves a chance and we just didn't finish it."
Back and forth the Greenmen and Rough Riders went.
A fatal fourth killed Aurora on Tuesday evening in Mantua as Crestwood won that game with a 16-2 run.
A trying third Friday — in which the Greenmen scored just three points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field, 0-of-5 from deep, with five turnovers — hurt but the good news was they still had time.
On Friday, they made the most of that time.
"For us to have a three-point quarter, it's crazy," Henderson said. "That's kudos to Christian and those guys over at Kent because they just play a different style of basketball. I coached with Christian a couple years back when we were both at Willoughby South, like 2012, 2013. He's a fantastic dude and he's playing some old-school basketball with some old-school players and it's cool to see, not fun to go against."