JFK rallies to beat East
YOUNGSTOWN — One minute.
One minute. That’s how much the John F. Kennedy Eagles led in the their matchup against the East Golden Bears on Tuesday night.
All the Eagles needed was the final 60 seconds of regulation as they methodically clawed their way back from a double-figure deficit to come away with a 72-69 victory.
“That’s all that matters,” Kennedy coach Mark Komlanc said. “The only part of the game that matters is the end. We’ve struggled at the end. It’s unusual to say you trailed for 31 minutes and win the game.”
For East coach Kevin Cylar, it’s been a familiar refrain for what has been a season full of growing pains.
“It’s us,” he said. “It’s us. We didn’t secure the ball. We didn’t play great transition defense. It’s just Christmas in January, Christmas in January. We like to give it away. We’re a giving team. It is what it is. It’s who we are, and I have to accept it until we get better. These are my guys, and I take responsibility for their actions.”
With Kennedy leading 70-66, Reuben Talley responded with a 3 to make it a one-point game with 6 seconds left to play.
Though on the ensuing inbound pass, Bobby Plizga got behind the East defense and took the half-court pass to the glass for the layup to make it 72-69 with 5 seconds left in regulation.
“The last play, they made some huge strides,” Komlanc said. “I was scared to death that they wouldn’t be able to execute that. They did it beautifully. We got the layup. We have to finish it with the free throw. We really weren’t planning on getting that. We were trying to get Cam the ball and set some action for him but they were obviously being on him getting the ball. Before they went out, I told them, I bet Bobby is going to be wide open. Sure enough he was. He ran it and they threw a perfect pass. We don’t do a lot of x’s and o’s. We try to play it hard.”
It wasn’t what East wanted to see in those final seconds.
“We were supposed to be matching up,” Cylar said. “They hit the back door and we lost as usual because we don’t take assignments. We come out of a timeout and say we’re going to matchup. We tell them to look for the long pass and we just don’t come and execute.”
After Plizga missed three-point play, the Golden Bears had one more opportunity, but John Clay’s 3 from half court had the distance but bounced off the glass and fell to the floor.
“I think we’re a little behind from where we want to be,” Komlanc said. “This is a huge week for us. We’re going to Canton McKinley. Every year, one of our goals is to get to regionals and a chance to go down to Columbus. We scheduled this game with that intention in mind. We’re attacking this week like it’s our chance to go to Columbus. Hopefully, this win catapults us a little further ahead.”
Early on though, it looked like the Eagles were going to get run out of the gym as the Golden Bears built a 24-11 lead after a quarter of play on 11-of-14 shooting with Clay leading the way with 10 of his game high 29 points coming during those opening 8 minutes.
“We’ve been waiting for a breakthrough game,” Cylar said. “John’s been getting better and better every game. He’s been leading up to this. He’s taking advantage of things that his teammates are helping him out with. We get steals and outlet it to him. I’m proud of John. He didn’t start the season off fast, but he’s finishing at a great pace.”
After both teams played an even second quarter, the Bears were seemingly in control with a 44-30 lead at the half.
Kennedy made a dent into the East lead heading into the final quarter, trailing 55-47, but Komlanc pointed out that it wasn’t a halftime adjustment that started paying off for the Eagles. His players started executing.
“That’s kind of been our struggle this year,” Komlanc said. “They know what we want to do. They know the style we want to play in. They’re good at it, but it takes them a while to get it clicking. As a staff, we have to figure out how to get it going. Every game, pretty much recently we’ve been down double digits and come back to get it within single digits.
“Tonight, they fought back to get the lead. They were able to hold onto it. I think it’s the next step in the process. They figured out how to win. We have the potential to be really good. I told them that I’m sick of saying that after every game. ‘Man, you guys are so close, but you just don’t value the little stuff.’ Tonight they kind of figured it out.”
East held a 66-60 lead with 2:21, but 16 seconds later TJ Hardin hit his second 3 of the quarter to make it a one-possession game first the time since the early stages of the first quarter.
A Cameron Hollobaugh bucket with 1:24 left got within one at 66-65 and then Hardin gave Kennedy their first lead 24 seconds later at 68-66. Hollobaugh led the Eagles with 26 points.
“It felt great to hit that 3,” Hardin said. “My teammates fed me when I needed it with their selfless play at the end. We just worked the ball around. My confidence grew after I hit that first shot. I took it from there and was hot.”
Hardin finished with 18 points.
“People wouldn’t believe it, but he’s our best shooter,” Komlanc said. “I think they look at him and say he’s a big guy. Since he was a freshman, he was playing last year. We discussed developing him as being able to play the wing. He busted his butt all summer. I think there were days were he said he needed a break. He couldn’t make a shot. Now, he’s shooting 50 percent from 3. He’s not afraid to put one up. People may watch him and ask how he makes shots, but all that matters is that he makes them when they count.”