Marlington gained their first NBC win Dec. 28 when they won at Alliance 66-56. Marlington rallied from a 14-6 first quarter deficit and outscored the Aviators 45-32 in the second half. Since then, they have won 15 of 16.
Marlington’s season was slipping away in late December.
The Duke were winless in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference. A four-game losing streak dropped them under .500 overall.
A veteran team which was expected to contend for a league title was in an unfavorable position.
“We were on the edge of a cliff,” head coach Nick Evanich said.
Since then, Marlington has been one of the area’s best boys high school basketball teams.
The Dukes head into tonight’s Division II district semifinal against Alliance winners of 15 of their last 16. They made a serious run at the NBC championship, only to fall just short. They survived an overtime battle with Springfield in their tournament opener and beat No. 4 seed Norton to reach the final four at Memorial Field House.
A win over the Aviators in the first regular-season meeting between the two helped turn things around.
The Dukes (18-6) gained their first NBC win Dec. 28 when they won at Alliance 66-56. Marlington rallied from a 14-6 first quarter deficit and outscored the Aviators 45-32 in the second half.
“That gave us life from there,” Evanich said. “We ran with it more than I ever thought we could, but we certainly ran with it.
“There was a sense of relief of finally getting one in the league. At 0-3, you certainly didn’t want to be 0-4. To get a road win on top of that probably saved our season.”
Lucas Strouble became the fifth player in Marlington history to score 1,000 career points that night. The 6-foot-5 forward poured in 39 points, grabbed 24 rebounds and handed out five assists.
Strouble rarely doesn’t achieve a double-double. When you factor in the Dukes’ desperate need for a win, this one may have been the most memorable.
“Anytime you go for 30 and 20, that has to be a highlight,” Evanich said. “We needed it that night. We needed everything he had for us to come from behind and get that win.
“It was crunch time for us to have a positive season, and he stepped up for us in a big way. When he plays well, it gives everyone else confidence, too.”
Strouble has had help along the way.
Senior guard Dan Krupko is a top defender and an offensive threat who can finish at the rim. Junior Thomas Mason cleans up offensive rebounds and teams with senior forward Adam Penird to defend an opponent’s best post player. Senior Micah Hall is able to find open spots and hit jumpers.
“What has been a key for us more than anything is guys finding their roles,” Evanich said.
A third win over a talented Alliance team this season will be required if Marlington is to move on. Evanich and his players know that won’t be easy.
Page 2 of 2 - The Aviators (17-7) upset No. 2 seed Hoban 44-43 on Saturday. Junior guard Parrish Martin hit a 17-footer with 2.7 seconds left to help Alliance earn a district berth for a second straight season.
Martin and junior forward J.J. Kukura are explosive scorers who helped lead the Aviators to an unbeaten regular season and a district final a year ago.
“You have to contain them,” Evanich said. “You’re not going to shut either of one them down. They’re too good of players. They have too many ways they can hurt you.”
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