Alliance moves back into contention in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference race after ending Canton South’s unbeaten run.
Canton South was the final hurdle cleared by Alliance during last year’s 20-0 regular season.
The Wildcats certainly realize how tough it is for any high school basketball team to go unbeaten.
The Aviators stopped South’s perfect run and put themselves back in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference race Friday night. They held the Wildcats scoreless in the final three minutes and earned a 56-50 victory Friday at Harry Fails Gymnasium.
J.J. Kukura scored a game-high 23 points and Kordelle Phillips led a third-quarter comeback for the Aviators (7-4, 5-2), who moved a game behind NBC co-leaders South and Salem. A loss would have practically crushed their hope of repeating as league champs.
“To beat South, they’re very well coached and have a lot of great weapons ... it was a fun night for us as a basketball team,” Alliance head coach Larry Kukura said.
The Aviators answered every Wildcats threat during a tight fourth quarter.
Parrish Martin buried a jumper after South’s Josh Lyon hit two free throws to tie the game at 48-48. The Wildcats’ Austin Jolliff tied the game again, but Kukura finished a driving layup to give Alliance a 52-50 lead.
The Wildcats could not recover after Kukura’s basket. They missed free jumpers and the front end of a one-and-one in the final minute. Kukura and Martin finished them off at the free throw line.
“We still ran our stuff and got the looks we had been getting all year long,” South head coach Frank Spotleson said. “It just didn’t fall in for us this time. You have to accept that, as well as the good with the bad.”
The Aviators were forced to play catch up most of the night. They trailed 19-13 after one quarter and 32-26 at halftime.
South led by as many as seven in the third quarter, but Phillips was the decisive difference for Alliance. He hit a 3-pointer from the corner and drove in for a layup to give the Aviators a 42-41 lead with 2:07 left in the quarter.
“He played with a lot of guts tonight,” Larry Kukura said. “J.J. hit him with a nice pass, and that 3 from the corner was a huge shot. He also made some unbelievable rebounds in the paint against some big kids. It was just a gutsy effort by Kordelle.”
Phillips finished with 14 points and Kukura added a seven rebounds for the Aviators, who were coming off a loss to Salem.
“I thought we pulled together as a team this week,” Larry Kukura said. “Our kids played very hard and very unselfish tonight.”
Jolliff finished with 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds for South (11-1, 6-1). Armand Fontes fired in 14 points and Lyon added 10.
Page 2 of 2 - Now, the Wildcats must deal with their first touch of adversity this season.
“We had learning moments all year long,” Spotleson said. “We learned how to win those close games. We learned what you do when you have the lead. We learned what you do when you have to claw back.
“Now we’re in a situation where we’re going to learn where one loss isn’t going to define us and that we’re going to end up strong because of it. I think these guys are going to come out and do that.”