BOARDMAN -- Howland junior Dario Hadzovic enjoyed a career night by leading the Tigers to a 71-59 victory over Rayen Monday in the opening round of the Division II boys sectional basketball tournament at Boardman High.
The 6-foot-6 Hadzovic pumped in 33 points, 15 of them in the final quarter, as Howland improved to 7-14 on the season. Howland advances to meet No. 2-seeded Canfield Friday at 8 p.m.
Howland never trailed in the contest, but Rayen, which bowed out of the tournament with a 9-12 record, kept the game interesting, getting to within four points of the Tigers during the final three minutes.
The big difference was the foul line where Howland hit on 23-of-36 attempts, 14-of-24 in the fourth quarter, while Rayen made just 8-of-12 and just 2-of-3 in the final eight minutes.
"Overall, we did a good job of stopping Rayen's transition game tonight and that was probably the key to our win," Howland head coach Bernie Bolha said.
"I thought Dario Hadzovic stepped up and played like a man tonight," Bolha said. "They all played so well and I can't say enough good things about them tonight.
"We had a game plan tonight and we stuck with it."
Behind five points from Ryan Johnson, who added 15 on the night, the Tigers jumped out to a 9-2 lead, but Rayen came back with eight unanswered points.
Hadzovic scored eight points in the second quarter for the Tigers as they increased their lead to 27-18 and then scored nine points in the third period to keep control of the contest, 40-34, going into the final eight minutes.
Both teams were hot in the final quarter. Rayen trailed by 10 points, 51-41, with 4:45 remaining, but cut that down to four points, 55-51, with 2:30 left.
Hadzovic went the length of the court to score and senior David Kennedy added a pair of free throws to rebuild the lead to eight points, 59-51, with 1:54 remaining.
After Hadzovic tipped in a missed shot by Johnson with less than a minute remaining to put Howland up 63-55, Rayen was never able to get back in the game.
Marcel Finkley led the Tigers with 15 points, while D'eon Elliot added 14 and Dominique Crosby chipped in with 10.
Struthers 54, Girard 49
In the tournament's opening game, Struthers held off a late charge by Girard to advance to sectional final action.
Senior Dave Mathews tossed in 25 points, including 11 in the final quarter to help the Wildcats (6-15) hold off the Indians.
Struthers took a 41-37 lead into the final quarter, but Girard tied the contest at 41-41 on a 3-point shot by Jon Smerchansky and then took its first lead of the game when Scott Barton made one of two free throws.
Girard held the lead until Mathews tied up the game at 47-47 with his first free throw and put the Wildcats ahead for keeps with his second.
In the final two minutes, the Wildcats hit on 10 of 12 free throws to preserve the victory.
Struthers will take on the tournament's No. 1 seed in Liberty on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Wildcats lost by three points to the Leopards earlier this season.
"I wasn't real pleased with our defensive intensity tonight the whole game," Struthers head coach John Corey said.
"We held them to 18 points in the first half and then gave up 19 in the third period," Corey said. "They really came after us in the second half.
"We're not a real good free-throw shooting team, maybe we averaged just over 50 percent on the year, but tonight the difference was Mathews, who is a good free throw shooter."
Girard coach Bryan O'Hara was proud of the way they fought back at the end.
"I don't know why I'm surprised, they haven't quit all season long," O'Hara said. "We've been hampered by injuries all season and it's taken its toll on us."
Girard, who was led by Chris Williams and Eric Stevens with 11 points each, finished the season 4-17.