By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Kent Roosevelt head coach Curtis Black saw something brand new on Friday night.
A seven-point play.
There was no better time for it, either.
Black’s Riders were struggling to find any kind of offensive rhythm in the second half of their road game at Aurora, then, boom, seven points that completely changed the complexion and momentum of a tightly contested game that catapulted Roosevelt to a thrilling 60-57 Suburban League victory over the host Greenmen.
Trailing 38-37, one minute into the fourth quarter, Riders junior Tyrel Ellington scored a layup off the right block as he was fouled, which was followed by a technical foul called against Aurora.
The made bucket had already titled the lead to Roosevelt at 39-38, with Ellington awaiting three free throws and the Riders then to receive possession of the ball.
Ellington hit two of his three from the charity stripe to push the lead to 41-38. On the ensuing possession, Jeremiah Lepp whipped a pass over to a wide open Grant Leslie for the left-wing 3-pointer.
In a blur of action, the shot from distance by Leslie put Roosevelt up 44-38, just seconds after they were trailing 38-37.
If asked if Black had ever seen what essentially became a seven-pont play before during this playing or coaching career, the first-year head coach was quick to respond.
Black elaborated on the importance of the swing.
“In a game like this, a close one that I felt like we were down one or two points the entire game, to get a big chunk of points like that, seven points, all at once, basically, was huge for us,” he said. “I think it allowed us a chance to play a little bit more relaxed on offense. I thought we were pressing a little bit and that sequence gave us some poise, and I think we scored on our next three or four possessions.”
All of this coming after Roosevelt (8-10, 6-5) managed to score only five points in the third quarter and its offense looking completely out of sync. The sluggish offense — Roosevelt shot just 2-of-12 in the third quarter and had five turnovers — allowed Aurora (2-14, 1-9) to reverse a narrow deficit at halftime (29-27) into a lead heading into the fourth quarter (38-34).
Aurora continued to battle to pull closer throughout the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, but could not get Roosevelt’s lead to under four until Brandon Liepins sunk a 3-pointer in the last second of the game to cut the Riders’ lead to three with 1 second left.
Roosevelt inbounded the ball deep down the court and ended the chance of any kind of unthinkable miracle for Aurora.
Ellington finished with a team-high 20 points in the game, while Grant Leslie filled his stat sheet with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Rough Riders, who had nine different players reach the scoring column.
While the loss was tough, head coach Joe Nowak, who took over the team after the season had already begun, spoke highly of his team’s effort and growth.
“I thought we responded well throughout the game, with all of the challenges we faced,” he said. “In the first half, we got behind by four points, and I think that probably becomes a 10 or 12-point deficit as early as a couple of weeks ago. It shows this team’s growth and resiliency that we did not have earlier this season.”
Aurora held multiple leads throughout the game, though none of which by more than four points.
“We talked to the team after the game and I think we won the first 24 minutes of the game and maybe the last two to three minutes of the game, but we need to find a way to win even closer to 32 minutes of the game,” Nowak said.
Michael Greenwood, who got hot from distance early and buried four first-half 3-pointers, led Aurora in scoring with 23 points. Sixteen of those points came in the first half before Roosevelt made some defensive adjustments.
Zach Anzells joined Greenwood in double figures with 15 points, including 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
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