WARREN - It might be an exaggeration to say that the Niles McKinley Red Dragons were on the verge of their biggest athletic victory over a Warren high school since Rick Gales ran roughshod over Western Reserve in a 23-14 football win in 1969.
Still, a win by the Dragons on the Warren G. Harding Raiders' home floor Saturday would have ranked high on the school's list of accomplishments. Niles almost pulled off the upset in rallying to tie the score with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders held on for a 65-61 win.
As far as Raiders coach Andy Vlajkovich was concerned, the Dragons were the better team.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Harding’s Tyron Howard (44) looks to the basket while Niles’ Kyle Paden (2) looks to block the shot.
"Coach (Ron) Price does an unbelievable job," Vlajkovich said of the Dragons mentor. "Having played last night and coming back-to-back and totally outplaying us, I give him and their kids a ton of credit."
Other than a 9-of-17 effort at the foul line and 26 turnovers, Price was pleased with the Dragons' effort. They didn't win, but they played like a team that will get plenty more wins the rest of the season.
"We've been playing hard all year, so that wasn't a surprise," Price said. "We expected to come in here and be successful. It was a great game. Harding has a nice club. We did some things well when it went to 10. We made sure it didn't get to 15 or 20. We got it right back into single digits. Every time they made a run, we answered and hit some big shots."
The Dragons (6-3) tied the score, 60-60, for the first time since early in the game on a layup by James Tate following a steal. Harding's Mik'quan Dorsey was then fouled, which looked like trouble for the Raiders, who were 14-of-29 from the line. Dorsey, however, made both free throws.
Anthony Bell, who scored a game-high 28 points, extended Harding's lead to 64-60 with a driving shot. Ray Russ, who led the Dragons in scoring with 18 points, made one of two free throws before Ky'ree Stubbs finished the scoring with one foul shot for Harding.
Dorsey was the lone Raider to have success at the line, making 5-of-6 attempts.
"I always try to make big plays for my team down the stretch," Dorsey said. "If they want to put me on the free-throw line, I'm going to make them."
The Raiders (5-2) jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead and proceeded to take a 22-16 advantage into the second quarter after a fast-paced, turnover-filled first quarter. The Dragons turned the ball over 12 times in the period, and the Raiders committed eight turnovers.
Both teams settled down the rest of the way and traded mini runs. The Dragons kept pace with excellent shooting from the perimeter, making eight 3-point shots (three by Russ).
"We've been working on our ballhandling," Price said. "We're pretty good sometimes and sometimes we weren't tonight. Give Harding credit. They're pretty good at getting you into that state of throwing the ball around. After the first quarter we settled down and started attacking that initial wave of traps. Once you do that, you have a good chance of getting a good shot."
Harding had a 36-31 halftime advantage. Bell scored 10 points in the third quarter to help give the Raiders a 51-47 lead. Russ kept the Dragons close with an 11-point quarter, including a pair of 3-point shots.
Dorsey finished with 17 points. Kymone Gamble had 12 points and Tate had 11 for the Dragons.
"I wasn't happy with the effort on the glass," Vlajkovich said. "I wasn't happy with our unselfishness and a lot of the things we've done. I know these guys can do this because they've shown stretches where they've played unselfish and hard. Tonight I didn't think they played hard or unselfish."
The determined Dragons had something to do with that.
"It was like their Super Bowl," Dorsey said. "We just have to focus on the next game. We got the win. That's all that really matters."
Niles is at Howland Friday, while Harding entertains Bedford.