NEWTON FALLS - This has been a difficult boys basketball season for Struthers and Newton Falls.
For the last several years the two teams were among the area's most successful programs, the Wildcats and Tigers entered Tuesday night's game with losing records.
That didn't stop them from putting on a wild, back-and-forth game, as Struthers rallied from a nine-point, second-quarter deficit for a 48-41 overtime victory.
"We definitely cut off their penetration, which hurt us in the first half," Struthers coach Joe Savko said. "They got all the way to the rim or they kicked out for a shot. In the second half we cut down on their penetration. I think that's what led to us getting back in the game."
Leading the comeback was Temeko Holness. The 6-foot-4 junior paced the Wildcats with 14 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. He scored the basket that sent the game into the extra quarter.
"Our team just needed energy," Holness said. "My coach always tells me I'm the spark of the team. When we get in those situations in the fourth quarter, great players rise in those situations. I just took it upon myself to follow through for my team."
"This is Temeko's coming out party," Savko said. "It's not that he doesn't think he's any good, but he doesn't have the confidence in his skills. I told him, 'They're not guarding you because they're doubling down in the post. When it gets kicked back out go to the rim.' It seemed to work for him tonight."
With 5.8 seconds remaining, Ray Phifer took a shot from the left side of the lane. The ball was batted up into the air and bounced off the side of the rim. It was then snagged by Holness, who laid it in to tie the game 36-36.
"We didn't know if they were going to be in a zone or man," Savko said of the final play of regulation. "Of course they jumped zone and we had a man set called. Dan Partika was looking for the shot. I said, 'If you don't have the shot, just penetrate and try to get it to somebody or get to the rim and get fouled.' He threw it to Ray Phifer who shot it up and missed it and Temeko tipped it in to tie it up."
Struthers (6-11) trailed by as much as 21-12 in the first half, but had pulled to within 31-27 through three quarters.
"In the first half we executed better offensively," Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. "I thought we took better shots. I thought we were careless on offense in the second half. You can't win a game scoring 14 points in 20 minutes (in the second half and overtime)."
Holness made three consecutive baskets to begin the fourth quarter that gave Struthers a 33-31 advantage, its first since 2-0. The Tigers made a comeback of their own, as Chris Greathouse got a steal and made two free throws and Dale Kernen added another free throw to give Newton Falls (7-8) a 36-34 lead with 39.1 seconds to play.
Holness missed a driving layup, but Ozzie Hawkins missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 12.7 seconds left that would have potentially given Newton Falls a four-point lead.
With the momentum clearly on its side, Struthers jumped out to a 43-36 lead with 1:44 left in overtime. Phifer scored five of his nine points in that stretch.
Kernen made 3-of-4 free throws to pull the Tigers within 45-41, but Phifer and David Stewart combined to make three free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.