WARREN - A few weeks prior to his team's opening-round tournament game against Ledgemont, Mathews coach Jason Lee had his players, among other things, commit their focus to improving at the free-throw line.
By midway through the first quarter Monday night, there wasn't a person inside Warren G. Harding's gymnasium who wasn't focused on the free-throw line. The Mustangs flirted with an Ohio High School Athletic Association record Monday night, shooting 37-of-46 from the line in a choppy 66-52 win over Ledgemont.
The two teams combined to shoot 77 free throws, and while the OHSAA does not have combined attempts posted as a record on its website, it's safe to assume Monday night's contest is at least in the vicinity of that record, whatever it is. Mathews' 37 makes fell short of the record (which is 44), and just missed the top 10, which features ties beginning at 40.
"It's a credit to our kids' work ethic," Lee said. "If you're going to take that many, you certainly want to shoot a high percentage and I was proud of our focus at the line tonight. It's something we've really been working on."
All counted, a total of 50 personal fouls were called against the two teams.
Ledgemont, which as recently as Feb. 9 had been beaten badly by Mathews, was able to close the first quarter with the game tied at 13. Steadily, however, Mathews took advantage of a growing Ledgemont foul situation.
Timely 3-point shooting by Mustang senior Aaron Suchanek seemed like runs, if only because of the infrequency with which the teams made actual field goals, as opposed to free throws. Suchanek extended the lead just before half to 26-19, and then again very early in the fourth quarter, making the score 52-36 and finished the Redskins.
Suchanek ended his night with 26 points, while teammate Wyatt Ford added 19 points on just two field goals and a 15-of-17 effort from the charity stripe.
"Aaron (Suchanek) and Andy Morgan (nine points, six rebounds) have really stepped up in leadership roles for us as seniors," Lee said.
Ledgemont coach Greg Fronk was pleased with the way his kids bounced back from the loss suffered to Mathews earlier in the month. The Redskins also endured losing some key players midway through the season.
"We've been struggling since losing some of our guys," Fronk said. "For these younger guys to come in and handle the ball that well tonight made me very happy. We had been turning it over quite a bit, but I think the court helped us as well tonight. Their court is a lot smaller and tonight we had some space."
The Redskins (7-16) were paced by senior Dick Zivny, who finished his career with a 21-point, 15-rebound showing.
"I'm very proud of the way he (Zivny) finished his career," Fronk said.
With the win, Mathews improves to 9-14 on the year and advances to play the second-seeded and defending district champion Windham Bombers Friday night.
"At one point late in the fourth quarter tonight, I looked over and saw (Windham coach) Marty Hill still scouting," Lee explained. "I turned and told our kids that's what great coaches who run great programs do. We're going to have to be well-prepared and sure some things up and come ready to play."