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For the second time in less than four weeks, the Nordonia boys basketball team clinched a Suburban League win over Hudson with clutch free throws down the stretch.
This time, the Knights sank 7-of-9 fourth quarter free throws to close out a 56-50 win Feb. 21 at home.
Nordonia then closed out the regular season by winning an 89-86 thriller over Wadsworth in double overtime Feb. 24
Nordonia head into the postseason red hot. The Knights finished the regular season at 7-15, 5-9 in the Suburban League National Conference.
"We played a very solid team game, but we did turn the ball over quite a bit (22 to 24 by the Explorers)," Knights head coach Mike Griffen said. "Offensively when we got shots we made them and defensively we really picked it up in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. Just like the first one we made our free throws in the fourth to ice it. I'm proud of the kids they're getting better."
While the Knights held on from a furious fourth quarter rally to gain their first league victory weeks earlier at Hudson this time the game was close throughout. The contest featured eight lead changes and four ties most coming in the final three periods. The Explorers held a 39-37 edge after three.
Early in the fourth the Knights defensive pressure forced four straight Hudson turnovers. Those changes of possession helped the hosts score the first seven points of the final frame and take control.
It was the first minute or so of the fourth quarter that was Hudson's undoing.
On their first four possessions the Explorers threw a pass out of bounds and then had the ball stolen by Julius Jones on the next three touches. Jones converted the first steal in to two free throws to tie the game at 39-39 with 7:21 to play. Eight seconds later after another Jones steal Tye Evans scored on a breakaway lay-in to give the hosts the lead for good.
Evans ended the night with eight points, while Jones ended with four points and four steals. Jones and his twin brother Jordan (three points and three steals) received praise from their coach afterward
"Although they didn't get on the scoreboard too much tonight I thought Julius and Jordan Jones, the two twins, played fantastic on defense," Griffen said.
Demoralized or not the Explorers could not come back. The visitors turned the ball over on six of seven possessions to open the final period and missed their lone shot in that span. Drew Petros' three, moments after that Hudson miss, had the Knights on top 44-39 with 5:26 left. Petros hit another dagger of a shot with 1:49 to go. His triple from the left corner made it a two-possession game at 49-43.
The shot may not have been the best choice nursing a three-point lead with less than two to play but Griffen had no problem with the decision. Petros, who led Nordonia with 14 points with a 3-6 effort outside the arc, missed from the same spot seconds earlier but Evans grabbed the rebound and Petros had a second chance.
"Drew came up big and shot the ball well. Good or bad shot? It was probably a bad one but to see our guys starting to have confidence in their -- I can live with it -- and he knocked it down. It's always a good shot when it goes in," Griffen said.
Nordonia got off to a nice start with Hudson missing starter Alex Beck with an ankle injury. The Knights led 14-8 after the first period.
In the second the Explorers closed the gap. Spencer McClure (14 points) hit a pair of foul shots midway through the frame for Hudson's first lead (15-14). The lead changed hands three more times before the hosts pulled out to a 24-20 halftime lead.
Against Wadsworth, Julius Jones had 23 points, while Evans put up 19. Center Ryan Smith added 18 for the Knights, while Petros had 14.
Nordonia was set to open the postseason at Cuyahoga Falls March 1 at 7 p.m. The winner of that game will travel to face Medina March 4 at 7 p.m.