JFK holds off Irish

Taylor’s 3-pointer, 30-point night spark Eagles

Tribune Chronicle Joe Simon John F. Kennedy’s Byron Taylor, right, tries to dribble past Ursuline’s Brayjon Nuby during the second half of their game Tuesday in Warren. Taylor scored 30 points and hit a key 3-pointer in the Eagles’ 82-75 victory.

WARREN — The time for Byron Taylor to make a clutch shot for John F. Kennedy probably shouldn’t have come, but it did, and Taylor was ready for it.

The smooth-shooting, slick-dribbling senior hit a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining that essentially put the game away for the Eagles, who nearly blew an 18-point lead but held on for an 82-75 victory over Ursuline at Gillen Gymnasium on Tuesday.

Taylor finished with 30 points, including some key free throws after his dagger 3 put JFK up by seven, as Kennedy (4-3) fended off a resilient Ursuline team.

“I want the ball in my hands,” said Taylor of enjoying the big moments. “(That shot) was in rhythm. I just caught it, and I felt like it would’ve been a big bucket if I made it, so I went ahead and took the shot.”

Taylor wasn’t the only one hitting big shots.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon JFK’s Gianni Eaton fires a 3-pointer over Ursuline’s Shawn Phillips on Tuesday in Warren.

Devin Keevey scored a game-high 32 points for the Irish (1-8) and sparked the second-half comeback. He responded to Taylor’s 3 with three points the old fashioned way (a field goal and a foul), but with less than one minute to play and Ursuline trailing by four, the Irish had to foul, and JFK made 8-of-11 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold on.

“I don’t think that any of them were worried about losing,” JFK coach Mark Komlanc said of his team. “They were kind of calm — maybe a little too calm because it was a four-point game. (Taylor) knew if he got an opportunity, he was going to knock it down. I knew as soon as he took it he was going to knock it down.

“But I would’ve went for anybody to take that shot at that time. If it was Gianni (Eaton), if it was B.J. (Williams) or Hyland (Burton) — those guys all have the confidence that when that moment arrives, they’re completely capable and willing to take that shot.”

Most of them seemed sure of themselves Tuesday.

Eaton hit four 3-pointers in the first half, when the Eagles opened up a double-digit lead. JFK made 11-of-23 from long range in the game, including 8-of-13 in the first half. Eaton, who finished with 16 points, cooled off a bit in the final two quarters, but Taylor didn’t — scoring 21 in the second half. Williams, JFK’s point guard, added 20 more points and played a big role for the Eagles.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon John F. Kennedy’s B.J. Williams, right, drives to the hoop while being guarded by Ursuline’s Luke PiPala on Friday in Warren. The Eagles won, 82-75.

“It’s typical,” Taylor said of the team’s hot shooting, “and it was a good night. It was a very good night.”

Still, the Eagles “got lazy,” according to Komlanc, and Ursuline battled its way back after going down 18 with 6:08 left in the third quarter.

While Keevey was the catalyst, several players stepped up for the Irish. Maybe one of the biggest moments came when Brayjon Nuby forced a turnover by Taylor and then hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. After the play, which cut the Eagles’ lead to 65-61, a delay-of-game technical foul was called on an Irish player. JFK made both free throws and quickly pushed its lead to 70-61 over the next two possessions.

“I thought a key call in the ballgame that kind of took the wind out of our sails was the delay of game technical,” Ursuline coach Keith Gunther said. “We were right there. … That was just a killer.

“There were three or four possessions, where if we would’ve made a layup, it would’ve put the pressure on them a little more. We cut it to four, and if we would’ve got smart and got an easy bucket, we could have really put the pressure on them. You could see the pressure was really mounting.”

Keevey made a few remarkable plays down the stretch to keep the Irish afloat, but Taylor and Co. were too much in the final minutes.

Komlanc hopes they don’t wait as long to put teams away in the future. The Eagles, who were at home for the first time this season, again possess the talent to make another postseason run following last year’s district title. Yet, similar to last season, it’s going to be a process for a team that’s still figuring things out as it welcomes new players into the fold.

“We went through this last year,” Komlanc said. “It’s a growing process for these to kids to understand and buy into things, and as they do, we’ll improve from game to game.”

JFK welcomes Youngstown Christian to Warren on Saturday, while Ursuline hosts arch rival Cardinal Mooney on Friday.