AURORA — With the postseason set to start next week, both the Aurora and Nordonia boys basketball teams wanted to pick up some momentum heading into the postseason.
Though both teams have suffered through sub.-500 seasons, Tuesday’s game at Aurora showed neither squad has given up.
In the end, a 10-0 run in overtime and a big edge in free throws helped the Greenmen pull out a 66-63 win over the Knights.
Aurora improved to 5-16 on the season, while Nordonia dropped to 6-15.
"I was really proud of how we played when we got down in overtime," Aurora head coach T.J. Henderson said. "That timeout really settled us down.
"We finished with more assists (14) than we had turnovers (13) and had nearly as many steals (12)," Henderson added. "Thirteen turnovers isn’t ideal, but we can live with that."
Nordonia head coach Dominique Sanders admitted the loss hurt because the Knights gave one of their best efforts of the season.
"We’re a team that, when we’re locked in, we’re a good team," Sanders said. "We had too many mental errors [Tuesday] that took us out of our offense. They pressured the ball late, which led to those turnovers.
"In the first half, we didn’t do a great job shutting down their dribble penetration," Sanders added. "We did a much better job switching everything in the second half."
Aurora took the early lead, thanks to its ability to hit the 3-pointer. Gabe Elsawy and and Jack Roche each hit from downtown early, helping the Greenmen take a 17-12 lead after one quarter.
Aurora led by as many as nine in the second quarter, but the Knights fought back, thanks to their big men.
Forward Logan Jankowski hit a 3-pointer for Nordonia in the second quarter and was a force on the boards all night.
Janskowski finished with 14 points and six rebounds, while fellow starting forward Robert Watson finished with a team-high 16 points for the Knights.
"Our front court battled their [butts] off tonight," Sanders said.
"We don’t really have a true post player," Henderson said. "Lenny Feckner and Ethan Hays try hard, but the truth is you can’t coach height."
Despite the height disadvantage, Hays finished with a game-high 17 points, while Feckner added 12 points for the Greenmen.
A 3-pointer by Nordonia’s Cooper Rusk at the buzzer cut Aurora’s lead to 38-33 at the half.
The Knights kept coming until they tied the game at 42-42 midway through the third quarter and it was nip-and-tuck for the rest of regulation.
With the game tied at 49 after three, the Greenmen opened the fourth quarter with a pair of transition layups, but Nordonia refused to go away.
Up 56-54 in the final minute of the game, Aurora’s Mason Bizjak missed a pair free throws which could have iced the game. The Knights got the rebound and called timeout.
Nordonia then beat the buzzer as point guard Anthony Lee fed Jankowski for a layup to tie the game at 56 and send it to overtime.
The Knights carried the momentum in the overtime period, as layups from Josh Malone and Joel Jones gave Nordonia a 60-56 lead.
But then the Greenmen turned up the pressure. Layups from Feckner and Elsway tied the game at 60. Elsaway finished with 11 points.
Then Bizjak got his redemption.
Bizjak converted six straight free throws to key Aurora’s 10-0 run and ice the game for the Greenmen.
"Once the first one went in, you could see the deep breath," Henderson said. "You just knew the rest were going in."
Free throws were a decisive factor in the win, as Aurora went 16-of-28 from the line, compared to just 3-of-10 for Nordonia.
Jones hit a shot from half court to beat the buzzer, but it was too little, too late for the Knights. Jones finished with seven points and 10 rebounds.
Roche finished with 11 points for Aurora, while Rusk had 10 points for Nordonia.
Both teams are set to close out their regular seasons on Friday. Nordonia will play host to North Royalton Friday, while Aurora makes the trip to Copley. Tip time for both games is at 7:30 p.m.