Finishing strong

Harding reels off 8th straight victory to end regular season

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Warren G. Harding’s Chris Hughes, left, looks for an opening against Lamont Johnson of Cleveland Glenville on Friday night at Harding.

WARREN — Maybe it was because this was Senior Night. Maybe it was because the game got a little heated.

Or maybe it’s because the Warren G. Harding basketball team is suddenly one of the hottest teams in northeast Ohio.

Regardless of the reason, the Raiders showed they can overcome all types of adversity in a 62-50 victory over Glenville on Friday.

Harding (16-6) looked overmatched in a rough first half, turning the ball over 11 times and struggling to score against a swarming full-court press deployed by the Tarblooders (13-9), who had won 10 straight and were coming off a City League championship. Things changed rather quickly after halftime, with the Raiders, led by point guard Dom McGhee, outscoring Glenville, 33-17, to win for the 10th time in their last 11 games.

“They probably caught us off-guard a little with that pressure-zone (defense),” Harding coach Andrew Vlajkovich said, “and it just took us a little time to adapt.”

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Warren G. Harding Terrion Jackson, left, looks to pass as Glenville’s Dalvon Craven guards Friday in Warren.

McGhee sure figured things out.

Harding, which trailed by four at halftime, was able to tie the score at 41 to start the fourth quarter, and the junior guard took over from there. He drove to the rim at will, scoring nine of his game-high 25 points in the fourth as the Raiders went on an 11-2 run to put the game away.

McGhee said the game meant a lot to him because of the significance it held to the nine seniors.

“We just wanted to get the seniors going out with a win at the end,” McGhee said. “It was a huge win just like any other win, but this was a special one for the seniors.”

The magnitude of the game was obvious.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Harding junior Dom McGhee sets up the Raiders' offense Friday night.

Aside from an intentional foul by the Tarblooders that led to a brief skirmish between some players, the Raiders’ level of intensity was high from the start.

Senior Delmar Moore had another impressive performance, scoring 18 points and grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds. He and McGhee carried Harding, offensively, for long stretches. Fellow senior Terrion Jackson also notched a double-double, with 10 points and 11 rebounds and was another force inside.

Maybe the biggest factor was figuring out how to combat the constant defensive pressure of Glenville. The answer was Moore, a 6-foot-6 forward who repeatedly caught the ball in the high post and either scored or found an open teammate.

“That’s just Delmar,” said Vlajkovich of how he played. “I’m not sure he did anything outside of the realm of what he normally does. He gets the ball in the high post, he gets on the offensive glass, he gets a little bit in transition, he makes a jumper — and our guys know that if you get Delmar the ball in the high post, something good’s going to happen.”

The Tarblooders looked a bit shellshocked by the second-half turnaround.

They turned the ball over 10 times in the final two quarters (they had three in the first half), their defense lacked the intensity it displayed earlier in the game and leading scorer Dalvon Craven scored just four points after registering 15 in the first half.

“Our guys that got in foul trouble started worrying about it,” Glenville coach Michael Holt said. “Then we had to sort of strategically keep them from fouling out. Down the stretch, we made a lot of turnovers. I don’t know if it was fatigue or what, but it was a good, tough game.”

Harding enters the tournament on a roll.

After a 2-4 start, the Raiders won 14 of their last 16 and are showing the potential to be a contender in the district tournament. Moore’s insertion into the lineup (he missed the first 11 games due to OHSAA transfer rules) and the team’s overall emphasis on defense have played major roles in the team’s turnaround.

“The last four years we’ve been pretty potent offensively and scored it really easily,” Vlajkovich said. “This team doesn’t score real easily, but they have bought into the defensive end. … Every team takes on its own identity, and even though you’re in the same family and it’s the Warren Harding family, every team takes on a different identity, and this team has taken on kind of a guard and rebound mentality.”

It seems to be working.