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Slow start dooms Harding against Spartans

WARREN — After a rough start with foul trouble and shooting woes, the Warren G. Harding boys basketball team showed some life and put a little scare into visiting Boardman, which leads the All-American Conference.

Buy down the stretch, the Spartans were able to pull away to a 54-43 victory that left the Raiders 1-7 overall and 1-3 in conference play.

“We kind of knew what they were going to do,” Harding coach Keelyn Franklin said. “They’re a good team and executed. It took us a little while to kind of do what we wanted to do defensively. It didn’t surprise us. I just think our lack of focus to start the game allowed them to get out and do what they did.”

The Spartans (11-3, 5-0) were focused from the opening tip, as they built a 17-8 lead after one quarter.

Boardman slowed the pace and ran most of its offensive sets to perfection with seven players getting into the scoring column in that opening frame.

“That’s always nice obviously,” Boardman coach Pat Birch said. “You get comfortable. Our first possession was a nice easy look for us. I thought we played really good in that first quarter defensively.

“They (Harding) found their footing in the second quarter and were pretty much even.”

Harding had to sit a couple of starters with foul troubles.

The teams played the second quarter pretty even with Boardman holding a 25-15 lead at the half. The teams were a combined 4-for-20 shooting in the period.

“I thought we really bogged down in that second quarter,” Birch said. “We got a little unsure of what we wanted to do. They started getting some second chance points. At halftime, we’re up 10 and it felt like they had some life.”

The third quarter swung back the other way in favor of the Spartans as D.J. Evans scored 7 of his 13 points.

Boardman held a 43-31 lead heading into the final quarter despite Ethan Anderson picking up his third foul with 6:35 left in the quarter.

Then Harding’s Johnny Graham connected on a 3-pointer to begin the fourth quarter, and the Raiders added buckets from Dom Foster and Ty Pennington as the Raiders hadpulled within 46-41 with two minutes remaining.

“Our guys kind of showed a little bit of that will,” Franklin said. “They just dug in and began to fight back. They said we’re not going to get blown out tonight. We’re going to put our feet in the dirt, go hard, and try to get some points in transition. We made some shots too, which always helps your defensive energy. I was proud of the ability to respond to some adversity.”

Foster led the Raiders with 14 points and Aston Bates added 10.

Boardman finished the game on an 8-2 run with Spencer Smith coming up big with back-to-back 3-pointers to stop any chance of a heroic comeback from the Raiders. Smith finished with 11 points as eight Boardman players scored.

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