The memory of Coach Frank Bubba was alive during the Raiders' game at Ursuline.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- An exhausted Garry Rowland managed to smile at the question.
He had just been asked what late coach Frank Bubba would have thought of Warren Harding's performance in its 64-54 loss to Ursuline Friday night.
"He'd be yelling at me that we didn't score enough points," said Rowland, who was named head coach after Bubba's death on Thursday. "I always ran the offense."
The situation: Of course, Harding's loss had little to do with Rowland's coaching or the Raiders' effort.
The Raiders simply tried too hard to do too much.
"The kids wanted to do so well," Rowland said. "They tried to do things 1-on-1 and that's not the way we play. We really tried to keep the emotions down."
It was a difficult task given the circumstances.
Bubba, 53, lost his long battle with cystic fibrosis on Thursday after a bout with pneumonia.
He would have coached his 100th game on Friday night.
After the game, Ursuline coach Steve Leslie found Bubba's wife, Ruth, and told her that the game -- and its lively atmosphere -- was a tribute to Frank.
"He was such a great model for young coaches such as myself," Leslie said. "He said some great things about our team earlier in the year and we've tried to live up to them."
Ursuline did -- playing possibly its best game of the season.
Raiders rally: After trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, Harding closed to 50-47 with 3:30 left.
But the Irish -- who lost a fourth-quarter lead to Newton Falls earlier in the season -- stood strong, outscoring Harding 14-4 over the next three minutes to pull away.
Ursuline (11-3, 3-1 Steel Valley Conference) tied the Raiders (11-2, 3-1) atop the SVC standings. Harding was ranked No. 5 in the latest Division I Associated Press poll.
Irish senior Marc Palermo scored 17 points, including 11 in the final four minutes, and added 10 assists and five rebounds.
"We knew [Harding] would have a lot of energy," Palermo said. "We just tried to feed off their energy.
"They're not No. 5 in the state for nothing."
Ursuline senior Andre Edmonds scored a season-high 21 points and added six rebounds. Jimmy Riley and Terrence Graves each added 10 points.
Poindexter out: The Irish played their first game without junior standout Isaiah Poindexter, who has been declared academically ineligible and likely will miss the second half of the season.
"We didn't have as many players as usual so I knew I had to step it up," Edmonds said.
Added Palermo, "He picked the right time to do it."
Harding started the game quickly, jumping out to an 11-6 lead before the Irish finished the quarter on a 9-0 run. Harding missed its last nine shots, but forced seven Irish turnovers.
The Raiders stayed close in the second quarter before Edmonds scored to make it 27-23 at halftime.
Harding's deficit hovered around double digits in the third quarter before the Raiders closed to 44-36 at the end of three.
Harding got to within 46-43 with 5:43 left in the game, forcing Leslie to call a timeout.
"This is just how the Newton Falls game went," he said in the huddle.
The reminder worked -- Harding got no closer than three points the rest of the way.
"I think we grew up a lot since the Newton Falls game," Leslie said. "After they cut it to three, we really handled ourselves well. This was a tough environment.
"I couldn't be happier."
Shelby Chaney led Harding with 13 points and nine rebounds. Prescott Burgess and Danny Stella each added 11 points.
Time to grieve: "They were very fragile," Rowland said of the Raiders. "We played a little tight and a little tense. But you can't fault the kids for that."
Harding hit 23 of 57 shots (40 percent) and 6 of 8 from the foul line. Ursuline shot 24-for-45 (53 percent) and made 10 of 15 from the line.
The Irish, who went 5-17 last season, may have won their biggest game in two years.
But Leslie didn't forget what the night was about.
"Frank was a warrior," Leslie said. "I never heard him say anything about being sick. All the young kids looked up to him.
"I'll never forget what he's done for the Steel Valley Conference."
Before the game, Youngstown mayor George McKelvey honored Ruth at center court and declared Friday "Frank Bubba Day."
"We stand as one to honor a man who showed us the meaning of courage," McKelvey said. "His spirit is with us this evening. He is in the heart of every player, coach and fan."
Both teams gathered at center court, held hands and observed a moment of silence.
Then, right before the game began, everyone stood on their feet and cheered.