Marlington, Alliance survive Division II sectional boys high school basketball openers.
A dominant second half of the season threw Marlington into the discussion of teams that could make an impact at tournament time.
A rare battle in Wednesday’s Division II high school boys basketball sectional semifinal threatened to derail the Dukes’ postseason hopes early. That didn’t faze head coach Nick Evanich’s players one bit.
Marlington outscored Springfield 13-6 in overtime and survived its postseason opener, 61-54, at Memorial Field House. Lucas Strouble scored eight of his game-high 28 points in the extra period to help the send fifth-seeded Dukes into a Saturday night matchup with No. 4 Norton at 6:15.
The Dukes’ résumé features 13 wins in their last 14 regular-season games. The closest victory was a nine-point win at Carrollton.
“It has been a while since we’ve been in one like this,” Evanich said. “Hopefully, it will pay dividends.”
The Dukes rallied from eight down early and appeared to be in decent shape with two minutes left in regulation. Strouble’s dunk and Dan Krupko’s layup provided a 48-43 lead.
Springfield rallied to force overtime and led at one point when Victor Dorsey buried a 3. The Dukes responded as if they had been in tight games like this all year. They finished on an 11-3 run.
“It says a lot of about our team, how tough we play and how we can stick a game out,” Strouble said. “That’s what we’re going to have to do from here on out when we play tougher teams.”
The momentum swung in Marlington’s favor for good with just under a minute left in overtime.
Chris Andrews hit two free throws to give the Dukes a 56-52 lead. Dorsey tried to quickly convert at the other end but had his shot rejected by Strouble. It led to a Strouble layup with 47 seconds left, which made it 58-52.
“I didn’t have a defensive strength game, and that’s what I need to work on,” Strouble said. “But the block, that definitely helped.”
Thomas Mason added 13 points and 11 rebounds for Marlington (17-6). He and Strouble led a decisive 18-1 Dukes advantage in offensive rebounds. Mason had 10 offensive boards himself.
Marlington also finished 27 of 33 from the free-throw line. Strouble was 16 of 18.
“I was really proud of the way we gutted it out,” Evanich said. “They did a great job of not letting us get any kind of flow. They did a great job of getting back, and we couldn’t get any easy transition points.
“I was really proud of them fighting through it. As ugly as it was, it doesn’t matter in the tournament.”
AVIATORS ALSO SURVIVE
Alliance’s huge third quarter loomed large in the long run.
Page 2 of 2 - The sixth-seeded Aviators grabbed a 15-point lead in the nightcap, but were forced to hold on for a 55-50 win over Coventry. The Comets crept to within four with just over a minute left before Alliance’s J.J. Kukura hit a free throw to account for the final margin.
“We talked after the game about having a little more of a killer instinct,” Aviators head coach Larry Kukura said. “Once we got up 15, we kind of took the gas off a little bit. I wasn’t happy about the way we finished, but we kept our composure, made some free throws and handled the ball at the end.”
Kukura finished with game highs of 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Aviators, who will face No. 2 seed Akron Hoban on Saturday night at 8. Parrish Martin added 10 points.
Alliance went on a 20-4 run to start the third quarter after trailing 26-25 at halftime. Kukura scored eight points during the run and capped it off with a dunk to make it 45-30. Zaviah Thomas also gave the Aviators quality minutes in the quarter and scored seven points.
“We got a little bit out-toughed in the first half,” Larry Kukura said. “They got more loose balls, they got more rebounds and we weren’t handling the ball with strength on offense. We challenged them at halftime about stepping it up in those three areas.
“We came out with a different mindset in the third quarter, a defensive mindset, a tougher mindset.”