Ursuline escaped from Boardman's furious comeback.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- In the end, the free throw was mightier than the 3-point goal.
Jimmy Riley of Ursuline High wound up as the hero of the game while Mike Finamore of Boardman can say he made it close in a down-to-the-wire Steel Valley Conference boys basketball struggle Tuesday at the Irish gym.
Riley made the second of two free throws with four seconds left to give Ursuline a 78-74 lead, enabling the Irish to withstand Finamore's long 3-point bank shot at the buzzer for a 78-77 win.
Out of slump: Riley finished with a game-high 20 points, including 12 of Ursuline's 22 fourth-quarter output, to continue his climb out of a recent slump and help Ursuline to stay unbeaten in the league (2-0), and remain a half-game back of leader Warren Harding (3-0).
"Jimmy is a good player. [He was a] big key," Ursuline coach Steve Leslie said. "He was struggling lately. But against Mooney and tonight, he stepped it up to become a leader on the floor."
Ursuline (10-2) had to summon all forces to finally subdue tenacious Boardman (6-5, 1-2), which fell behind by 10 points in the fourth quarter before battling back.
Riley almost single-handedly dug the Spartans into their 64-54 hole by reeling off four straight baskets. And then after Boardman hacked the deficit to 64-58 with 5:35 left, Riley uncorked a 3-point goal that rebuilt the margin to 67-58.
Determination: But the determined Spartans staged a strong rally down the stretch behind Eric Baldwin, who scored seven of his team's final 14 points, including a 3-point goal that cut the gap to 69-66 with 3:00 left.
After Finamore's two free throws, Baldwin plugged back-to-back goals to slice the count to 74-72.
Ursuline canned seven of its final 11 points from the foul line, with Andre Edmonds accounting for six.
"We went to the foul line and made free throws. We haven't been very good at the line and that was the difference down the stretch," Leslie said.
Balanced attack: Palermo finished with 16 points, including three 3-point goals, while Edmonds and Isaiah Poindexter chipped in with 12 apiece and Terrence Graves with 11.
Edmonds grabbed eight of his team's 27 rebounds. Kevin Coleman connected on two 3-point goals.
Boardman coach Dan Gorski said he is impressed by Ursuline.
"They are getting better every time I see them, and I saw them three times already," said Gorski, whose Spartans had a 30-26 goal advantage and 10-9 3-point edge, but were outgunned at the foul line, 17-7.
"The obvious difference is the foul line," said Gorski, also blaming Ursuline's quickness which made it difficult matching up the Spartans' big man, 6-11 Nick Stefanovic, with Ursuline's smaller players on defense.
One of best games: Stefanovic, getting timely feeds from the outside, had one of his best games with a team-high 17 points, including a bucket to pull Boardman within 77-74. Stefanovic also had eight of his team's 23 rebounds.
Leslie said Ursuline's strategy against Stefanovic was "to get a lot of bodies on him. I thought [Doug] Foster and [Keith] Canacci played Stefanovic very well by guarding him closely."
Finamore finished with 16 points, including four 3-point goals, while Matt Marks added 15 points, with three bombs, and Baldwin 13 points to also spark the Irish.