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MACEDONIA -- Different route, same result.
For the second time in less than four weeks, the Nordonia boys basketball team clinched a Suburban League National Conference win over neighboring Hudson with clutch free throws down the stretch.
The Knights sank 7-of-9 fourth-quarter shots at the charity stripe en route to a 56-50 victory over the Explorers Feb. 21 at Hugh Griffith Memorial Gymnasium in Macedonia.
Nordonia, which improved to 5-16 overall and 3-10 in the National Conference, made a total of 13-of-20 shots from the free throw line. Hudson finished 6-of-11.
With the loss, Hudson dropped to 8-13 overall and 3-10 in the conference.
The foul-line situation was eerily similar to the teams' first showdown.
In their 44-40 win over the Explorers Jan. 27 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium, the Knights made 9-of-12 free throws down the stretch and 17-of-24 for the game. Hudson was just 5-of-11 from the line in that game.
In round two, both squads had trouble taking care of the ball. The Explorers lost the ball 24 times and Nordonia finished with 22 turnovers.
"We played a very solid team game, but we did turn the ball over quite a bit," Knights' first-year head coach Mike Griffen said. "Offensively, when we got shots, we made them and defensively, we really picked it up in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter.
"Just like the first one, we made our free throws in the fourth to ice it. I'm proud of the kids. They're getting better."
While Nordonia held on from a furious fourth-quarter rally to gain its first conference victory at Hudson, this time, the game was close throughout.
The contest featured eight lead changes and four ties -- most coming in the final three periods. The Explorers held a 39-37 edge after three.
Early in the fourth, the Knights' defensive pressure forced four straight Hudson turnovers.
Those changes of possession helped Nordonia score the first seven points of the final frame and take control.
"It's kind of the same story," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said. "When you turn the ball over, you are going to lose. When you turn the ball over and shoot as poorly as we do, it's a double-edged sword. Execution mistakes cost us opportunities."
It was the first minute or so of the fourth quarter that was the Explorers' undoing.
On its first four possessions, Hudson threw a pass out of bounds and then had the ball stolen by Julius Jones on the next three touches.
Jones converted the first steal into two free throws to tie the game at 39-39 with 7 minutes, 21 seconds to play. Eight seconds later after another Julius Jones' steal, Tye Evans scored on a breakaway layup to give the Knights the lead for good.
Evans ended the night with 8 points, while Julius Jones ended with 4 points and 4 steals. Julius Jones and his twin brother, Jordan (3 points and 3 steals) received praise from their coach afterward
"Although they didn't get on the scoreboard too much, I thought Julius and Jordan Jones, played fantastic on defense," Griffen said.
"We call that a kill. Anytime you get three stops in a row, we call that a kill because that's demoralizing for the other team to not get shots three times in a row."
Demoralized or not, the Explorers could not come back.
Hudson turned the ball over on six of seven possessions to open the final period and missed its lone shot in that span.
Drew Petros' 3-pointer moments after that Explorers' miss, had the Knights on top 44-39 with 5:26 left. Petros hit another dagger of a shot with 1:49 to go. His triple from the left corner made it a two-possession game at 49-43.
The shot may not have been the best choice, nursing a three-point lead with less than two minutes to play, but Griffen had no problem with the decision. Petros, who led Nordonia with 14 points with a 3-of-6 effort outside the arc, missed from the same spot seconds earlier, but Evans grabbed the rebound and Petros had a second chance.
"Drew came up big and shot the ball well," Griffen said. "Good or bad shot? It was probably a bad one, but to see our guys starting to have confidence in their stroke, I can live with it and he knocked it down. It's always a good shot when it goes in."
Senior guard Spencer McClure led Hudson with 14 points and Jack Burdett scored the Explorers' final seven points. Burdett finished with 10 points.
Hudson also got a boost from senior guard Simon Saeger, who scored 7 points and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter. Saeger came into the game with 7 career points.
"Our bench guys have been tremendous supporters of the starters all year and they have gotten better," Brink said. "Simon didn't play at all last year and that hurt, but he has made up some ground and is getting better every day. We have tried to give those guys opportunities as the season went on because they've earned it."
The Explorers' junior varsity team improved to 16-5 overall and 9-4 in the conference after posting a convincing 62-35 win.
Anthony Chokenea and Alec Jackson each scored 14 points to lead Hudson.
The Explorers earned a 44-38 victory in the freshman contest. Joey Walsh led Hudson with 12 points and Damani Ganaway scored 11 points.
All three teams were scheduled to conclude their regular seasons against National Conference foe Brecksville-Broadview Heights Feb. 24 at home. Results were not available at press time.
The Explorers received the eighth seed in the Copley Division I sectional-district tournament. They are set to host ninth-seeded Akron Firestone March 1 at 7 p.m.