By ROB DiPOFI
For the Star Beacon
Tuesday night’s boys basketball game between the Jefferson Falcons and Geneva Eagles proved to be an exciting contest from beginning to end. And, ultimately it was the visiting Falcons who had enough both at the outset and conclusion of the game to push past their former Northeastern Conference rivals, 48-43.
For the first two quarters of the hotly-contested game, there were numerous lead exchanges and momentum shifts. Nevertheless, despite the back-and-forth action and give-and-take manner of the game, neither side found itself up more than four points at any moment during the first sixteen minutes of play.
Some struggles with taking care of the basketball by the home team (12 Geneva turnovers) coupled with some crisp passing by Jefferson against Geneva’s zone defense finally allowed the visitors to push out to a four-point halftime lead, 27-23.
The small cushion was mostly due to some timely 3-point baskets by senior Troy Bloom (10 points) and some good work on the offensive boards by senior David Chase (8 points, 7 rebounds) and junior Ryan Zindash (9 points, 5 rebounds).
As the third quarter began, it looked like Jefferson might build on that momentum and seemingly looked poised to run away with the contest after senior Brett Powers nailed a 3-pointer to give Jefferson a 36-29 lead with just under four minutes to play in the stanza. But, Geneva would not go away, shutting out Jefferson the rest of the quarter and scoring the last four points of the quarter in the last forty-five seconds to cut the Jefferson lead to 36-33 heading into the last quarter of regulation.
And it was in that quarter where the game was determined with supporters and fans for both teams on their edge of their seats each time their team possessed the basketball. A number of deliberate possessions by both teams early on in the quarter forced both teams to step up the defensive pressure.
With both teams employing some trapping on defense, a number of fouls began to pile up and resulted in chances for both teams to score at the foul line. Taking advantage of those chances, Jefferson matched its biggest lead of the game at 43-36 with approximately 2:30 to go. However, the host Eagles mustered up one more run, where they eventually got it to a two-point game at 45-43 after senior Matt Mackynen’s hoop with 13 seconds left.
After applying full-court pressure, the Eagles fouled senior point guard Jacob Hamilton. Jefferson coach Jeremy Huber didn’t want it any other way at that point.
“Jacob is a fighter and I was glad he was there, stepped up and nailed the first one, giving us a three-point lead,” Huber said.
Hamilton missed the second attempt and with the rebound secured, the Eagles pushed in transition with senior Vern Thompson having the ball. As the ball was pushed into the Eagle end of the floor, a foul was called with just under three seconds left. Mackynen missed his first free throw and then tried to purposely miss the second, but committed a violation in doing so. The two misses were really quite reflective of what happened at the charity stripe for Scott Torok’s squad for the entire contest.
Torok could only be left to wonder if the shooting had been better from the foul line, where his team was 13 for 31 (42 percent), what might have been. However, coming off a 73-40 season-opening loss at the hands of West Geauga on Saturday night, Torok’s group showed no signs of being bothered by that result and played this one to the final buzzer, playing hard and physical.
Ultimately though Geneva’s inability to knock down “freebies,” especially in the second half, proved to be the main reason for the loss.
“We went 13 for 31 at the foul line, 5 for 19 in the second half, that’s not going to win us any games,” Torok said. “I thought the boys played hard and that we outplayed Jefferson, thought we deserved to win.
“But, we had a couple of mental lapses, costing us a couple of timeouts we would have liked to have had at the end of the game. The boys haven’t been in that type of situation much and it needs to be chalked up to experience.”
For the Falcons, Huber’s team did just enough and a few of the little things coaches are searching for — good passing, clutch baskets, and overall contributions from everyone who takes the floor — to give itself its initial victory of the campaign. Huber is hoping for more, especially with conference games looming on the horizon.
“We had seen Geneva play on Saturday night against West Geauga,” he said. “Those boys played hard then and played hard tonight but we were up for the challenge. This is a local game and the boys were into it and we are pleased with the win.”
Playing their third game in three days didn’t seem to bother the Falcons much with Huber substituting liberally and getting a big contribution from Zindash, a player that Torok commented “wasn’t even on our radar but played well.”
Despite being hampered by foul trouble the entire evening, sophomore Lucas Hitchcock came up huge (10 points, 5 rebounds) and helped to give the Falcons what they needed to get the W.
“Lucas had a great game, faced some adversity and was able to push through it and help us, showed some resiliency too,” Huber said. “Zindash gave us a big lift and has great character. I am pleased with the depth we are showing early in the season.”
DiPofi is a freelance writer from Geneva.