COPLEY TWP. — Point guard Eli Linder was a non-factor for the first 35:59 of Nordonia’s Copley Division I District semifinal game against Brunswick.
But boy, oh boy, did he make the final second count.
Linder made a miraculous, perfectly defended 3-pointer with 0.5 ticks left in overtime Wednesday, giving the Knights a hair-raising 41-40 victory.
Not only did the shot mark Linder’s first points, it was top-seeded Nordonia’s first made 3-pointer in 17 attempts.
The Suburban League champion advances to face Hudson (19-4) or Stow (12-12) in Saturday’s title game.
“They made one more play than we did,” Brunswick coach Joe Mackey said. “That pretty much sums up the game.
“It was a bank shot — people will call it a lucky shot — but give the kid credit. He had to get the ball on line.”
It was an extremely bitter pill to swallow for the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (14-11), who missed five first-half layups, blew an eight-point lead in the final 4 minutes of regulation and missed four of their final six free throws.
“I feel bad for our kids,” Mackey said. “It’s a tough way to close it down, but we certainly had our opportunities.”
Brunswick took a 40-38 lead in OT after a pair of free throws by Ryan Badowski (game-high 23 points) with 1:00 left. The Blue Devils’ Kyle Wheeler (10 points, 3 assists) then came up with the biggest play of the game at that point by blocking a corner 3-point attempt by Nick Piotrowski (4 points on 1-of-15 shooting) with 15 seconds remaining.
Nordonia (21-3) inbounded the ball and looked for an entry to 6-foot-6 center Chris Scott (17 points, 13 rebounds) or a driving lane against Brunswick’s disciplined matchup 2-3 zone.
Alex Alders attempted to find a crease, but was cut off. He then passed left to a well-defended Linder, who tossed up an off-balance, double-clutched prayer that was answered off glass.
The clock initially ran out and the Knights’ student section stormed the court. The referees cleared the floor and put 0.5 seconds on the clock, but it didn’t matter as Wheeler’s heave attempt to teammate Patrick Jarvis was tipped away near the 3-point line.
“The play wasn’t for me,” Linder said. “Alex Alders, he just stopped and he just kicked it out to me. I just threw it up.
“(The defender) hit my elbow, and I didn’t call backboard. It just went in.”
With 3½ quarters in the books, the veteran Blue Devils appeared on the verge of advancing to their second district championship game in three seasons after Badowski, who scored 15 of his team’s 22 points after halftime, hit a huge 3-pointer to make it 36-28 with 4 minutes left.
After facing a similar deficit in its previous game against Cuyahoga Falls, Nordonia had other plans.
Scott began the rally with a free throw, which was followed by steal and three-point play by Eugene Coleman (6 points, 10 rebounds). Piotrowski then snapped an 0-for-10 slide with a tough runner hard off glass to make it 36-34, and Scott tied the game with a bruising put-back at the 2:17 mark.
Badowski made two free throws that were countered by an Alders runner to set up a wild final 1:10 of regulation.
Taylor Armagost started the sequence with two missed free throws, but Nordonia couldn’t take advantage after Alders committed a turnover. Wheeler then did the same thing at the other end, only to watch Piotrowski stunningly blow an open layup in transition.
Brunswick again appeared poised to take the lead with 21.2 seconds left, but Wheeler missed the front end of a one-and-one and Armagost stepped out of bounds a split second after grabbing the rebound.
The Blue Devils then survived when Piotrowski’s desperation 3-point attempt rattled out off glass as time expired.
The problem was they couldn’t escape death twice, as the Linder buzzer beater was launched from nearly the same spot as Piotrowski’s.
“Any time you lose in the tournament, it’s tough, but to go out like that on a last-second shot is something that sticks with you if you’re lucky enough to be 80 years old,” Mackey said. “That’s one you’ll never forget.”
The teams combined to shoot 30-of-107 from the floor (.280), 14-of-27 from the free throw line (.519) and 7-of-46 from 3-point range (.152).
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.