Aviators land safely in Salem
SALEM -Salem coach Rich Hart wasn’t happy with his team’s execution down the stretch. Costly mistakes on three of the Quakers’ finals possessions allowed Alliance to escape with a 73-71 victory on Friday at John A. Cabas Gymasium.
With the game tied, 71-71, the Aviators’ J.J. Kukura connected on a floater from the baseline with 2.4 seconds remaining to give Alliance the lead. After a Salem timeout, a desperation three-pointer from near midcourt by Ryan Bush came up empty as time expired.
“We let this one get away from us,” Hart said. “We had three errors in the final minutes. We didn’t get the ball inside, we had a turnover and then a bad shot. Those things just can’t happen if you want to beat good teams.”
In a game that saw the lead change several times, the Quakers built their largest advantage early in the fourth quarter. Salem’s Max Wolfgang converted a three-point play to give his team a 9-point lead before Alliance went on a 7-0 run.
The Quakers pushed their lead back to six points before the Aviators tightened the gap with back-to-back baskets with under two minutes to play. Kukura scored the finanl two baskets for Alliance securing the win.
“They’re a tough team to handle,” Alliance coach Larry Kukura said. “They’re a good offensive team and with those two big guys, it’s nearly impossible for us to stop with our lack of size.”
Wolfgang and Anthony Shivers caused problems for the interior of the Alliance defense throughout the game. Wolfgang finished with 19 points, while Shivers chipped in 13 points.
However, Kurkura – who finished with a game-high 23 points – came through in the clutch to give Alliance a bit of redemption from a 65-51 loss at the hands of Salem earlier this season.
The Aviators also got help from Parrish Martin and Kordelle Phillips who each netted 13 points in the win. Phillips connected on three from behind the arc including one after the Quakers’ built their largest lead in the final frame.
“(Wolfgang) had a great game and I thought (Shivers) played well too,” Hart said. “We got contributions off the bench also, but it was those three possessions at the end that cost us.”
At halftime, the Aviators held a 34-30 advantage. However, the lead changed four times in the third quarter as Salem turned to their post players to regain the lead.
“We battled throughout and I was happy with a four-point lead at the half,” Kukura said. “We came out and made some mistakes and threw away some possessions in the second half. That allowed them to get back in the game.”
With the win, Alliance improves to 12-6 overall and 9-3 in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference. Salem falls to 13-6 overall and 8-5 in league play.
“This was our last chance to really move up in the NBC,” Hart said.
The Quakers have three games remaining in the regular season. Salem will host Campbell Memorial on Tuesday before playing their last league game next Friday at Louisville. The Quakers wrap up their regular season slate on Feb. 20 against United. Alliance will host Minerva today.
“We’ve got to work on eliminating those crucial mistakes,” Hart said. “If we want to go far in the tournament, we can’t have those errors. It’s the difference in winning and losing games. If this would’ve been a tournament game, we’d be going home.”
In junior varsity action, Alliance came out on top, 56-47. Jairon Brackett led Alliance with 19 points, while Ryan Hoover paced Salem with 18 points.
A problem with Alliance buses caused the games to be pushed back. The junior varsity contest began around 6:45 p.m., while the varsity game tipped off at 7:55 p.m.
Salem’s Ryan Bush finished with 21 points to lead the Quakers. Bush, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer on Tuesday, now has 1,190 career points.
Salem coach Rich Hart spoke to the crowd prior to the varsity contest. The game was played as a benefit for the American Heart Association. Hart, who suffered a heart attack in early December, urged the crowd to be proactive with their health. “This cause hits home with me,” he said. “You’ve got to get your check-ups, especially if you feel any symptoms. There’s no reason to try and be a hero.”