Western Reserve junior guard Aiden Markley locked into a shooting zone he had not experienced before during Friday’s key Firelands Conference game vs. St. Paul in Norwalk.
Markley finished with a career and game-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting — including eight 3-pointers — and the Roughriders held off a late rally to leave town with a 56-54 win over the Flyers.
“You get a feeling that you’ve never felt before,” Markley said of his shooting zone. “You just keep shooting, and they keep going in. It’s a great feeling. I was mostly focused on the game, but I was zoning out everybody else and it felt good — really good.”
Markley’s last basket of the game put Western (6-3, 5-0) up 46-35 with just under five minutes remaining. But the Roughriders found themselves holding their collective breaths twice in the final 30 seconds.
Down 53-43 with 2:48 left, the Flyers (2-4, 2-2) responded and gave themselves a chance to tie the game. Nate Winslow converted a three-point play, and a steal and layup by Paul Pearce made it 53-48 with 2:23 left.
Each team split a pair of free throws, and Western’s Matt Perkins did the same at the foul line for a 54-49 lead with 1:32 left. Winslow then drained his third 3-pointer of the game with 1:17 left to bring St. Paul within 55-52.
Western then ran some clock off, while the Flyers played aggressive defense without attempting to foul. Finally with just over 30 seconds left, Dale Smith had a shot blocked and the Flyers got the rebound and called timeout with 29.6 seconds left.
Winslow then got another look at a 3 — and the shot spun around the rim and did everything but go down. St. Paul got the rebound, and Nick Lukasko attempted a 3 that also spun around the rim and didn’t drop.
Western’s Gavin Braden grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 10.5 seconds left. He split two free throws, and Winslow streaked down and scored again for the Flyers. However, just under five seconds remained, and Western didn’t have to inbound the ball as time expired.
“It was a huge game for us to go up two games ahead on them,” Smith said after adding 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “It gives us some room to keep working. It’s a big win, no doubt.”
Western coach Chris Sheldon felt his team won the game in the third quarter — but got lucky in the final minutes. Down 27-26 at halftime, the ’Riders did not allow a point for a 6:14 stretch of the third quarter.
In that same span, Markley scored the first eight points of the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers, for a 34-26 lead.
“We really strung together important stops and scores in the second half,” Sheldon said. “I thought we strung enough stops together, and Offensively, we really hit some big shots. Aiden obviously led us, and he can really shoot the ball — and he did that tonight at a high level.
“They (St. Paul) kept playing and we took two bad shots, a bad turnover and missed some foul shots,” he added. “Those are things that, we’re lucky in a sense, because you usually go home with a loss after doing those things.”
For St. Paul, Winslow finished with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and Jake Griffin added 12 points. Lukasko, Pearce and Chris Ruffing each finished with seven points and five rebounds for the Flyers, who also fell behind 11-0 to start the game before surging ahead.
“Too much playing in spurts,” St. Paul coach Mike Smith said. “We need to play with a sense of urgency for 32 minutes. In these four games we’ve had those stretches where we haven’t played with a sense of urgency, whether we are a bit too relaxed or what, I’m not sure.
“We play great in some stretches, and I thought in situations toward the end our kids played much better,” he added. “But we can’t go for stretches where we’re invisible.”
Western Reserve also won the junior varsity game, 57-49. Luke Rowlinson scored 18 points for the Roughriders and Cory Hipp added 10. Alex Kashian scored 13 for the Flyers, and Noah Avendano added 11 points.
Western entertains Crestline tonight in non-league play, while the Flyers travel to Fremont St. Joseph on Tuesday — then visit Mapleton Friday and host Tiffin Calvert on Saturday.
“We’re going to figure this thing out, that’s for sure,” Smith said. “We know the ability is there, we just have to go to work and get better. We have the talent to do good things, but we need a little more court time — and we’re going to be a bear by the end of the year, I truly believe that.”