NORTH ROYALTON — The Highland boys basketball team has climbed many big obstacles en route to its impressive season so far. Tuesday, the Hornets couldn’t get past 6-foot-8 Omari Spellman.
Giving the Bears all they could handle, Highland had a few chances to win, but North Royalton came out with a 48-47 non-conference victory.
More often than not, Spellman was involved, but no play was more important for North Royalton (10-1) than the sophomore’s block of Brogan Scott at the end.
Trailing by one and with the ball under the basket, Tanner Houska inbounded to the 6-5 Scott, who went up for a game-winning layup. But Spellman (game-high 21 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists) blocked the shot. A jump ball ensued, giving the ball to North Royalton with 3.4 seconds left. Alex Wood stole the ball near midcourt for the Hornets (9-4), but his shot missed in what was an incredible back-and-forth game.
“He’s special,” North Royalton coach Tim Matus said. “He’s a very good player. He’s a natural, but he works really hard at it. He’s our centerpiece. He’s pretty unselfish.”
That unselfishness showed on the eventual game-winner for the Bears when Spellman kicked the ball out to Logan Chuppa with 49 seconds left. Chuppa promptly drained a 3-pointer from the right wing.
But the game was more than Spellman, who has had Ohio State and Villanova visit as well as a number of Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
Using an incredible game plan, Highland took the air out of the ball and led for most of the game.
The Hornets turned the ball over just four times and made every possession count. In fact, North Royalton didn’t take its first lead until Spellman scored with 2:13 left in the third quarter.
Houska (15 points, 5 assists) tied the game at 30 just before the quarter break, setting the stage for a final period that featured five lead changes.
“We have to keep our heads up,” Scott said. “Now we know we can hang with the best teams around. It’s just something we have to work on to win games like this.”
Scott was another bright spot for the Hornets in a game full of them. The senior scored 20 points — he had 10 in the third quarter — and added four rebounds and three assists.
Despite the loss, Highland coach Michael Murphy saw plenty to work with moving forward to a pivotal Suburban League showdown at Green on Friday.
“We had a game plan; they had one for us,” Murphy said. “They certainly know they can beat the best. That’s a good basketball team.
“They’re very good. We’ll hang our heads tonight, but get back after it for our biggest game on Friday. The kids walked away with a lot of confidence. It was very much like a playoff game.”
North Royalton completed the sweep with a 60-42 win in the junior varsity game. Isaac Matejin led the Hornets with 14 points.
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.