Entering the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game against Southwestern Conference rival Avon Lake, Avon’s Dominic Rini had just four points and was 1-of-5 shooting. The junior guard saved his best for last, evidently, as he added eight points and four rebounds in the final frame, paving the way for the Eagles’ 46-43 victory over the Shoremen.
“I couldn’t hit a shot to save my life in the first three quarters,” Rini said. “I just had to stay confident and eventually they’d go in. They just kept leaving me open, so I kept shooting.”
That was exactly the plan Avon coach Kevin Sapara had for him.
“We told (Rini) at halftime, ‘Keep shooting. You’re shooting good shots,’” Sapara said. “He did that and he hit two big ones. He got those rebounds, he was just great.”
Both teams struggled to find a rhythm out of the gate as Avon led just 10-8 after the first quarter. But Avon Lake senior guard Tanner Russell (13.8 ppg) wasted no time at the start of the second, knocking down three-consecutive 3-pointers, contributing nine of the Shoremen’s 15 points in the quarter. Avon Lake led 23-21 at halftime.
Another strong outing from Russell in the third (eight points, 3-of-4) and a cold stretch from three for the Eagles bolstered the Shoremen to a 36-32 advantage after the third. Going into the fourth, Avon was just 3-of-17 from behind the arc.
On top of Rini’s strong offensive showing, the Eagles defense stepped up and held the Shoremen to just seven points in the fourth quarter and kept them scoreless in the final 2:50.
The Shoremen had opportunities to win the game in the closing seconds, but a controversial foul call that resulted in an inbound pass rather than free throws, two missed 3-pointers on Avon Lake’s final possession and Rini converting on a pair of free throws kept the Shoremen three points short.
Avon Lake coach Eric Smith’s first question after the game was about his team’s free throw shooting percentage. The Shoremen finished 3-of-10 at the line.
“It’s tough. (The score is) 46-43 and we left some points out there,” Smith said. “Free throws, we missed two or three shots, layups, at the rim, in-and-out. That’s not an excuse, we just left some points out there that we normally make.
“I thought we had some good looks. We got the ball inside a couple of times,” he added. “(We had) wide open looks with our feet set (and) didn’t knock some shots down.”
Avon Lake was led by Russell’s 19 points and five rebounds, followed by senior Nate Sidloski (11 points, four rebounds). Senior forward Nick Marsh had just four points off the bench, but added eight rebounds.
Rini was outshined by only junior Niko Pappas (13 points, five rebounds) and matched senior Cole Warren’s point output (12 points, seven rebounds).
Both teams continue conference play on Friday as Avon Lake (6-7, 5-4 SWC) travels to Berea-Midpark and Avon (5-7, 4-5 SWC) visits Lakewood.
Neither will have to wait long to get another crack at each other, as the teams will meet again on Feb. 1 in Avon. That game was originally scheduled as both teams’ season-opener but was postponed due to both football teams making deep playoff runs and numerous football players from each team also playing basketball.
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