By Steve wilaj
Given the task of stopping red-hot Newton Falls guard Ozzie Hawkins with the game on the line, Girard’s Jimmy Standohar — with help from Deonte Brown — forced Hawkins to pick up his dribble, ripped the ball from him and forced a foul.
“Ozzie kind of put it in front of my face and the time just arose,” Standohar said.
With only 6.6 seconds remaining in the tie game, the senior guard was quickly presented with — arguably — a tougher challenge: knock down the free throws.
“It’s funny because I’ve struggled from the line all in the beginning of the year and we shoot like 50 after every practice,” Standohar said. “But I knew if I just relied on my fundamentals, the rest would take care of itself.”
Indeed it did, as Standohar calmly sank the game-winning foul shots to clinch a 58-56 victory for the Indians on Friday night against Newton Falls.
“There’s no one I’d rather have in that situation than my senior, Jim Standohar,” Girard coach Craig Hannon said. “We just made one more play down the stretch than them and that’s what it came down too.”
Hawkins 28-point effort kept the Tigers (5-5, 1-3 All-American Conference, National Division) ahead for the majority of the game, as his layup with 1:32 remaining gave Newton Falls a 56-54 lead.
“He’s as good as anyone in the area,” Hannon said. “He’s a hell of a player and gives a lot of people problems. We knew that coming in and he’s just a bad matchup for us.”
Girard (8-2, 3-1) answered immediately when Evan Standohar — who Hannon called the “best 5-foot-10 rebounder in the country” — connected on a put-back to tie the game with 1:10 left. He finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
That set up the Newton Falls turnover.
“They double-teamed me, I had a teammate wide-open and I just missed him,” Hawkins said. “Standohar grabbed it out of my hands first, but if I get double-teamed, I’m always looking.”
Put in the same situation after Standohar’s free throws, Hawkins found teammate Jaden Walton for a last second 3-pointer that missed wide left as time expired.
“We’re looking for [Hawkins] to facilitate in those situations,” Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. “If he can get to the hole, he gets to the hole. If they close it off, he has to find the open man. I don’t think we could have gotten a better shot at the end.”
No other Tigers player reached double figures, as Chris Greathouse was the next high-scorer with nine points. Still, Hawkins said Newton Falls can take away some positives.
“I thought our enthusiasm was really good — that’s something we lacked,” he said. “Losing sucks, but today was a big step. I think we’ll get to that point [of closing out games].”
Girard — which has notched consecutive grind-out victories — was led by Brown’s 17 points, while Jimmy Standohar finished with 12.
“We’re really growing up as a team,” Standohar said. “Our young guys are maturing and we’re all coming together …we’re just playing well as a team right now.”