Nordonia boys basketball grinds past Twinsburg on Tigers' opening night
TWINSBURG — Nordonia vs. Twinsburg is the epitome of a backyard rivalry, but the game always means a bit more to Nordonia boys basketball coach Dominique Sanders.
A 2008 graduate of Twinsburg, Sanders teaches physical education at his alma mater.
That means his students often chide him for coaching the Knights, especially ahead of rivalry games.
"They were chirping at me all week," Sanders said. "I respect the heck out of coach [Phil] Schmook. He always does a great job getting them ready to play."
The game Friday at Twinsburg was a grinder with both team's playing aggressive defense.
Nordonia ended up winning this battle of attrition, as the Knights hit free throws down the stretch to score an 33-29 win, giving Sanders his first victory over his alma mater.
Nordonia improved to 5-8 on the season and scored their first win in the Suburban League National Conference, improving to 1-3.
"It's always a backyard rivalry game," Sanders said. "It was that way why I played in it. We knew they were going to be physical and we matched that tonight. We had our best week of practice all season this week."
Due to the Twinsburg City School District's athletic pause, which wiped out the entire month of December, Friday marked Twinsburg's season opener.
Schmook lamented the fact his team had to open its season against a Knights squad that was literally in mid-season form.
"I'm not looking to make excuses," Schmook said. "I'm just happy were able to play. This game was like a scrimmage for us. They're playing their 13th game of the year. You just can't duplicate games in practice. It really is tough."
"The game was physical and we knew it would be, but we didn't do a good job controlling the things we could. We didn't play good team basketball. That comes with time."
The tone was set early for the contest with Twinsburg contesting every shot in the low post, while Nordonia's man defense pressured the Tigers' guards. The result was a 6-6 tie after one quarter.
One reason for the Knights' offensive struggles in the paint was Twinsburg senior post Roman Sims.
In his first varsity start, Sims led the Tigers with eight points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Sims seemed to alter shots every time Nordonia drove to the basket.
"He's really improved his game and his attitude so much," Schmook said. "I think Roman totally out played their big guy tonight and I think Dante' Yarborough shut down their point guard. Those two were the only two that really brought it for us tonight."
Outside of the two seniors, Schmook wasn't happy with his defense's effort.
One area where Nordonia dominated was in trips to the free-throw line.
The Knights went 11-of-19 from the stripe, compared to just 1-of-3 from the line for the Tigers. Twinsburg did not take a foul shot n the second half.
Up 16-15 at the half, Nordonia went to a change of pace to try to the slow down the Tigers.
Rather than pushing the accelerator, Sanders had the Knights play a 2-3 zone for most of the second half.
The move worked, as Nordonia stretched its lead to the largest lead of the game at 26-19 with the less than a minute in the third quarter.
With the Tigers shutting down the post, Knight guard Luke Tyukodi was able to take advantage by hitting some mid-range jumper.
Down 26-22 after three quarters, Twinsburg was able to scrap their way back to even footing. A layup from Sims tied the game at 29-29 with four minutes left and forced Sanders to call timeout.
The Knights, however, would shut the Tigers down in the final four minute. Nordonia did most of its fourth-quarter damage at the free-throw line, as a three-pointer from Joel Jones was Nordonia's only field goal in the quarter.
While Knights center Damon Wallace was held without a field goal, he came up big for the Knights down the stretch.
After splitting a pair of free throws to give the Knights the lead with 2:52 left, Wallace was fouled on a drive to the basket with 13.6 seconds left. He drained two free throw to make it 32-29 Knights.
Wallace finished with a six point of 6-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line and 10 rebounds.
"Damon didn't have as many field goal as he would like tonight, but he helped us in so many ways," Sanders said. "That's just dedication to his craft. Every practice, he's shooting extra free throws."
Twinsburg's final possession saw a three-point attempt go off the mark. The Knights' Liam Gopalakrishna rebounded the ball, was fouled and hit the front end a one-and-one with three seconds left to ice the game.