Highland's Jarrett Smith shoots between Copley's Brian Roberts, left, and Aamir Solomon during the first quarter. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)
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GRANGER TWP. — Jarrett Smith, Collin Rittman and the rest of the even-keeled Highland boys basketball team knew a 71-66 loss to Copley on Friday wasn’t the end of the world.
The Hornets also knew they had burned their ace in the hole — a cushion atop the Suburban League American Conference — and can’t afford another slipup with road games at Tallmadge and Barberton remaining. Revere (12-5, 8-3) leads by a half-game over Highland (11-7, 7-3) and Copley (12-5, 7-3), with Tallmadge (11-7, 6-4) and Barberton (9-9, 6-4) also technically still in play in what has been a wild season.
“After the game, Coach (Adam Cestaro) just said we still have a chance to share the league,” Rittman said. “He said not to get too down. They’re a good team, and they like to play fast like us.”
The final score was misleading, as the Indians took a nap on defense and the Hornets hit everything from 3-point range to cut an 18-point second-half deficit to 65-61 on a four-point play by Pete Gmitric with 34.1 seconds left. It was a classic case of too little, too late after a brick-laying first half.
Small forward Rittman cracked the Medina County top 20 for career points (1,121) with a team-high 22 points. Shooting guard Smith was a major factor in the comeback bid with 13 of his 15 points in the second half, while power forward Ryan Frederick nailed four 3-pointers and point guard Jake Rogers had six assists and four steals.
Copley, which is 4-2 with four straight wins since kicking three key bench players off the team, countered with 29 points (21 in the second half) from All-SL guard Brian Roberts Jr., 14 from Anthony Dente and five points, seven rebounds and seven assists from Buchtel transfer Aamir Solomon.
The Indians never shot below 50 percent in a quarter, were 24-for-43 (.558) overall and made 16-of-18 free throws, including 9-of-10 by Roberts in the fourth.
“All five guys in their starting lineup can play,” Rittman said.
In falling behind 18-9, 31-20 and 52-35 at the quarter breaks, the Hornets weren’t overmatched but simply couldn’t make a shot, clanging no fewer than 10 within eight feet in the first half despite not getting blocked. They were 9-for-26 (.346) from the floor by halftime, allowing run-and-gun Copley to get going in transition and beat Highland on slip screens in the half court.
Things only got worse when starting center Landon Mazzocco (9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) picked up his fourth foul during a 13-6 Indians run to begin the second half — Roberts had seven points — as a Dente three made the score 44-26.
“The beginning really was (the difference),” Smith said. “We got off to kind of a slow start, and halfway into the second quarter we started playing with them. That bad start really got us behind and we couldn’t make it up.
“The ball just wasn’t going in, and it’s sometimes hard to keep playing hard on the defensive end, especially when you’re coming down and shooting and don’t see it go in at all.”
Never-quit Highland finally started hitting wide-open 3-pointers to cut the deficity, and Copley continued to play porous defense other than giving Rogers all the room he wanted outside of 15 feet. The score still remained comfortably in the Indians’ favor after three quarters.
That’s when things got crazy, as Frederick, Smith, Rittman and Gmitric made everything they chucked (8-of-13 3-pointers in the half, 5-of-5 in fourth) and Indians coach Mark Dente exclaimed, “They’re shooting out of their minds” to the scorer’s table.
A Frederick three made the score 60-54 with 1:49 left and the Gmitric four-point play that featured an emphatic fist-pump from the fiery senior closed the gap to 65-61 with 34.1 seconds remaining.
Luckily for the Indians, the speedy Roberts juked open to get the ball and absorb fouls time after time. The senior, who has 786 points since the beginning of last season, made his final eight attempts from the foul line to clinch the game.
“We have to go back (today), watch some film and shoot a little bit,” Smith said. “We beat (Tallmadge 70-67 in double overtime) the first time, so it gives us more confidence going into Friday next week. We’ll go from there.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Copley 71, Highland 66
COPLEY 18 13 21 19 — 71
HIGHLAND 9 11 17 29 — 66
Copley — Aamir Solomon 2-0-5, Isaiah Rogers 3-2-9, Sam Emich 4-0-8, Anthony Dente 5-1-14, Brian Roberts Jr. 7-13-29, A.J. Campbell 3-0-6, Tyson Durant 0-0-0, Corlin Embry 0-0-0. TOTALS: 24-16-71.
Highland — Collin Rittman 9-4-22, Ryan Frederick 4-0-12, Landon Mazzocco 4-1-9, Jarrett Smith 6-0-15, Jake Rogers 0-1-1, Pete Gmitric 2-1-7, Alex Jaworski 0-0-0. TOTALS: 25-7-66.
3-point goals — Dente 3, Roberts 2, Solomon, Rogers, Frederick 4, Smith 3, Gmitric 2. Rebounds — Copley 27 (Emich 10), Highland 22 (Mazzocco, Rittman 5). Assists — Copley 13 (Solomon 7), Highland 17 (Rogers 6). Records — Copley (12-5, 7-3), Highland (11-7, 7-3). Junior varsity — Highland 59, Copley 36.