FTs lift Girard past Niles in OT
NILES — For four quarters, Tuesday’s Northeast-8 Conference game between Girard and Niles was nip and tuck. There were 12 lead changes, and the teams were tied on six occasions.
In fact, the contest was so closely contested that overtime was needed to decide a winner.
In the fifth quarter, Girard scored the first points and never looked back.
The Indians didn’t score a field goal in overtime, but they were 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, resulting in a 58-55 road win over the Red Dragons.
Girard, winner of three straight, lifts its record to 8-10, 7-4 NE-8. Niles fell to 3-14, 2-9. Since winning at Poland on Jan. 17, the Red Dragons have dropped five straight.
“We’ve been preaching about the importance of free throws this week because the last couple of games we were a little off,” Girard freshman Thomas Cardiero said. “Our coaches always tell us that in close games free throws usually make the difference. Tonight was proof.”
Cardiero played with the poise of an upperclassman throughout the night. He made four 3-pointers, he converted on a couple of key jump shots, and he was 6-of-6 from the foul line. In overtime, Cardiero made all four of his free-throw attempts and finished with 22 points.
“I just try to do whatever is necessary to help my team win,” Cardiero said. “Sometimes if I’m open and we need the big three, I’ll go for that. Sometimes it’s foul shots. I also pride myself in rebounds and other parts of the game that don’t involve scoring.”
Christian Graziano popped in 22 points for Girard. Lorenzo Frigerio rounded out the Indians’ scoring with 14 points.
Doug Foster and A.I. Fryer scored 10 apiece for Niles, while Cody Lauer added nine off the bench.
Lauer’s five-point quarter sparked Niles early on. In fact, Lauer made a pair of free throws with 1:09 left in the first period to give the Red Dragons a 15-9 lead — the largest lead by either team on the night.
However, Girard went on a 7-0 run to take a 16-15 advantage two minutes into the second quarter. From that point on, the two teams were never separated by more than five points.
Niles scored back-to-back buckets by Chris Chieffo (eight points) and Foster to go up 49-45 with one minute left in regulation. A Cardiero basket and a pair of free throws by Graziano sent the game into overtime.
“Neither team was ever able to make that one huge run, and that kept things close throughout,” Girard coach Craig Hannon said. “It felt like we were stuck in the mud all night, Niles was really sticking it to us early on. But we responded down the stretch, and that’s the type of grit a coach loves to see in his team.”
Hannon believes his team is headed in the right direction as it marches toward the home stretch of the regular season.
“Our goal is always to be playing our best ball in February and March,” Hannon said. “We continue to show signs of improvement, and the good thing about it is that we still have a lot of things to fix, we still have plenty of room to keep improving.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of poise in overtime. We really crashed the boards, and that helped get us to the line.”
Girard outrebounded Niles 7-0 in the extra session.
For Niles coach Doug Foster, the setback was just the latest chapter in a season filled with frustration.
“What you saw tonight has been the story of our year,” Foster said. “We do everything right, we play really hard and then we just can’t finish the shots. The effort is there, but we just have to learn to win.”
Foster also expressed frustration over the season-long free throw discrepancy. On Tuesday, Niles was 5-of-7 from the free throw line, while Girard made 20-of-23 free throws.
“It is what it is,” Foster said. “In eight or nine of our losses, the free throw difference has been astronomical.”
Niles looks to get back on track Friday at South Range. Girard hopes to keep its momentum going strong Friday when it visits Struthers.