Short-handed Nordonia boys basketball stumbles at Highland

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Nordonia guard Liam Golpalakrishna looks to drive the baselien during a game against Brecksville-Broadview Heights earlier this month.

GRANGER TOWNSHIP —  Teams have to get used to playing without key individuals more than usual in these pandemic-sffected days.

Such was the case for the Nordonia boys basketball squad when it traveled to Medina Highland Dec. 22.

Thanks to illness and minor injuries, the Knights were without four varsity players, including starters Joel Jones and Luke Tyukodi.

Nordonia looked to be a step off for most of the evening and Hornets took advantage. The Knights played their normal tenacity, coming back from several deficits, but the Hornets never trailed and won 49-44.

Highland improved to 4-2, while Nordonia dropped to 3-6.

"We missed Joel and Luke tonight," said Nordonia coach Dominique Sanders. "They're two guys with a lot of experience.

"At the end of the day, no excuses," he added. "It has to be next man up These guys know our sets. We need to be able to execute."

Highland's interior defense made it difficult for the Knights.

"That's something that we pride ourselves on," said Highland coach Adam Cestaro. "We don't like to run a lot of full-court. We lke to pressure within 20 feet of the basket."

"We didn't shoot it particularly well tonight," he added. "Will [Hoynes] and Hunter [Winston] did a great job for us."

Sanders said the Knights' defensive plan to protect the paint, but Hornets buzzed through the Knights down low early.

Thanks to a trio of and-one situations, Highland opened the game with a 12-4 lead.

Highland guard Robert Huttner was a particular menace on the dribble drive, as Cestaro noted the Hornets hit a season-low 2 three-pointers.

Up 17-8 after one quarter, Highland seemed to be in control of the contest.

True to form, however, the Knights scrapped their way back into the contest.

 A pair of three-pointers from Matt Hayes allowed Nordonia to cut the deficit to 21-20 with under a minute left in the half. Hayes had eight of the nine points in the second quarter.

Huttner would hit a jumper in the lane just before the buzzer, giving Highland a 23-20 lead at the half.

With Jones out, Nordonia leaned heavily on senior forward Damon Wallace. Wallace answered the call with a double-double, leading the Knights with 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Sanders noted, however, he wanted to see more from his dirty-work player.

"I love the 14 rebounds," Sanders said. "I expect Damon to play well on offense. I need Damon to do a better job defensively. We gave up way too many layups. I need him to step up on the help side."

The third quarter saw Highland push the lead out to 33-24 midway through before Sanders called timeout.

Nordonia went to a trapping defense which forced nine turnovers in the second half.

A catalyst for the Knights defense was senior George Jones, who had four steals on the night.

"That's what George brings to this team," Jones said. "He's a very good defender."

Jones' tenacity helped the Knight to finish the quarter on a 7-0 run, cutting the deficit to 33-31 heading into the final quarter.

Huttner, however, would not allot his team to lose.

Huttner put up seven of his game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, seeming to hit a basket every time the Knights tried to rally.

Highland pushed the lead out to eight points on a couple of occasions in the fourth and the Knights could not respond this time.

Hoynes had 11 points and nine rebounds for Highland.

The Hornet went 7-of-12 from the free throw line, while Nordonia shot 6-of-9.

Nordonia had a full week off between games, as it was set t face University School Tuesday on the road.