It’s Alliance Area Night in the Field House, as the team from the city and the team from the nearby countryside put on their best faces in big basketball tournament wins.
A basketball tournament official who coached football for a long time walked away from Marlington’s latest win shaking his head in wonder.
Wow, the football man said, what an amazing gridiron force Lucas Strouble would have been — Ohio State material.
Strouble gave up football a few years ago, without regret. He had a blast with his basketball buddies in a 62-51 Division II sectional final against a tall, 19-win Norton team.
Then, Marlington’s next-door neighbor, Alliance, made basketball seem like quite the party with a 44-43 upset of No. 2 seed Akron Hoban.
Nobody was chanting “let’s play football” on this gem of a hoops night in old Memorial Field House.
Nothing against football, Strouble said after a five-dunk night in which he scored 26 points, ripped 21 rebounds, had five assists and blocked four shots.
“I always wanted to play college basketball,” he said. “After my freshman year I decided football was not for me. Some of it had to do with my brothers playing basketball.”
Strouble’s traits — tall, built like a tight end, fast, fierce, skilled — blended nicely with those of his Marlington teammates in a gut-wrencher that turned into a surprising rout.
It appeared the Dukes would pull away in the third quarter when senior Adam Penird floated a lob that Strouble dunked hard for a 33-22 lead. Yet, Norton, led by 6-7 senior Tyler Sherman (13 points), fought back to tie it late in the third.
Penird got the lead back by hitting all three shots after he was fouled before the third-quarter buzzer while shooting a 3. Junior Shawn Kirk nailed a 3 during a fourth-quarter run. Then, Kirk took a turn at floating a lob to Strouble.
This time, Strouble threw it down with one hand. This time, it pushed a lead to 49-40. This time, it was a knockout punch.
“Lucas has had a lot of dunks,” Marlington head coach Nick Evanich said, “but that was pretty special ... one hand, in traffic.”
On the Dukes’ way to an 18-point lead, Strouble deposited a pair of breakaway two-hand thunder slams into the memories of Marlington fans who watched the Dukes improve to 18-6.
Norton head coach Rod Swartz said the game plan was to keep Strouble surrounded.
“He found a way to do what he does anyway,” Swartz said. “He’s a great player.”
It was Alliance-area night and NBC statement night in the Field House, and it will be again. The Aviators, who fell twice to Marlington in the regular season, advanced to play the Dukes.
Evanich scouted the entire Hoban game and afterward made sure to exit by the Alliance locker room.
“Great game,” Evanich said with a big smile as he passed Aviators head coach Larry Kukura.
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It took forever for the Aviators to catch Hoban. In fact, they still trailed 43-42 when Alliance called a timeout with 28 seconds left.
Coach Kukura’s plan: Kill half the clock holding the ball near halfcourt. Run a play whose screens free up his son J.J. just inside the circle for a 17-footer or a quick drive. Celebrate.
“They took us out of the play,” Larry Kukura said.
Junior guard Parrish Martin had the ball.
With 12 seconds left, Martin went on the attack from just inside the halfcourt line, dribbled right in traffic, shifted left, passed up a chance to hit Kukura on the left wing, and drilled a 17-footer behind the left elbow.
Same result: Celebrate.
“I didn’t even see J.J.,” Martin said. “All I had time to do was look at the clock ... it was 4.3 seconds when I checked ... then find the shot.”
He demonstrated the shot as he looked out to the court amid a swarm of celebrating Alliance people. A quick stop ... a slight fall-away fade to the left ... the release.
“It would have been blocked if I didn’t shoot it that way,” Martin said.
Instead, it found nothing but net.
Alliance’s crowd erupted. Hoban got the ball back, needing to go the length of the court with 2.7 seconds left. A sloppy inbound led to another timeout with 1.1 seconds left.
A halfcourt shot wasn’t close, and the Knights (17-6) lost to Alliance a second straight year in the tournament.
Kukura battled for 17 of his 25 points by the midway point of the third, at which point the Aviators (17-7) trailed just 26-24.
Late in the quarter, a Martin 3 helped Alliance pull to within 33-32 heading into the fourth.
“The kids played with a lot of guts, a lot of belief, and a lot of togetherness,” Larry Kukura said.
Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP