LORDSTOWN - Going into the closing seconds of Lordstown's Northeastern Athletic Conference clash with Chalker, the Red Devils left coach Brian Force sweating bullets on the bench.
The Red Devils led by two points following a Steve Gill free throw with 12.9 seconds remaining, and the Wildcats drove quickly down the floor before giving sophomore Eric Wilson a good look at the top of the arc. Wilson's attempt just rimmed out with a handful of seconds remaining, however, and Force could breath a sigh of relief, as Lordstown held on for a 60-58 win.
"It looked like it was good to me," Force said of the last 3-point attempt. "We didn't play well enough, I thought, to win that game. They just didn't make that shot to beat us. I felt like, in some way, they deserved to hit that shot. I just kind of held my breath for a second and hoped we got the rebound."
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Lordstown’s Jake Jones (15) has the ball knocked away by Chalker’s Tim Cummins during fourth-quarter action on Friday night. Lordstown won, 60-58.
The player who corralled that rebound for Lordstown (4-4, 3-1 NAC), Nick Johnson, said he was prepared for the rebound.
"As soon as the shot went up, I had to box out," said Johnson, who finished with a double-double of 15 points and 15 rebounds. "I knew even if he misses, they still had time for a tip-in, so I knew our guys and myself, we all had to find bodies and box out and secure that last rebound."
The reason Force said he felt his team didn't deserve to win the game came from a lack of execution down the stretch. The Red Devils watched as an eight-point lead with 2:55 remaining in the game dwindled down to one with 24.3 seconds left, and Lordstown had plenty of opportunities to slow down Chalker's run, missing the front end of two one-and-one's late in the game.
Chalker coach Mike Karr agreed with Force in saying his Wildcats (4-5, 2-3 NAC) didn't receive poetic justice in the end.
"It was a sense of growth a little bit," Karr said. "We didn't let in. We battled back with less than three minutes and were able to come back with this team. That part of it, I was happy about. Obviously, I wish the shot would have went down, but I think the kids deserved to win this one."
During the final 2 minutes, the Red Devils were without point guard Preston Sutton, who received his second technical foul at the 1:43 mark in the fourth.
Until that point, the 5-foot-8 senior had put in a solid performance, calming down the offense late in the second quarter after seven first-quarter turnovers to lead a 9-0 run that gave Lordstown a one-point lead into the break.
In the third quarter, Sutton took over the scoring, amassing 10 of his 15 points in the quarter. Sutton did his most damage by driving to the basket, scoring four of his five buckets in the third this way.
"I was feeling pretty good," Sutton said. "My 3-point shot wasn't really going, so I decided I could beat my man off the dribble and get layups. I decided to attack the basket more instead of settling for jump shots."
Sutton's effort, amongst others, erased a 18-point, first-half effort by Chalker's Jacob Zolna, who terrorized the Lordstown defense from inside and outside the arc. Zolna hit four 3s, including one at the 5:56 mark in the second quarter that was a few feet behind the line, and he managed to create another off the dribble.
Zolna finished with a game-high 22 points, while Wilson added 21 in the loss.
"We sorely missed a third scorer tonight," Karr said. "We had a spat of guys, four, six (points) here and there, but we needed one more scorer tonight and I think we could have won this thing."
Despite the struggles down the stretch, Force said he won't complain about getting the win.
"A league win is a league win," Force said. "We'll take it."