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Mooney fends off Harding

Staff photo / Preston Byers Harding’s Davion Herron attempts to score against Mooney’s Nico Genova (13) and Nick Pregibon (4) during the Cardinals’ victory Tuesday.

WARREN — The Warren G. Harding boys basketball team fell behind early and made a comeback, but wilted down the stretch in Tuesday’s 58-48 home loss to Cardinal Mooney.

After doing much of the same in its 51-44 defeat against Canfield on Friday, Harding dug itself out of an 11-point hole Tuesday and pulled within one only to let the game slip away in the fourth.

Raiders head coach Keelyn Franklin had a long talk with his team after the game.

“Honestly, what I said is, minutes are up for grabs now. The guys that are playing a lot of the minutes and aren’t producing, we’re going to start looking at other guys if they can’t produce. And that goes for everyone,” Franklin said. “Just something’s got to change. It’s nothing personal against anybody. But we seem to be losing games the same way, so something has to change. And if that means different guys get more minutes, then that’s what it means.”

After falling behind 17-6 nearly six minutes into the game thanks to hot perimeter shooting from Mooney against the Harding zone defense, Franklin called a timeout. The Raiders responded and got the deficit back into single digits heading into the second quarter.

Harding began truly chipping away at Mooney’s advantage in the second quarter. They got within three with under a minute to go in the half, but a thunderous Eddie Nieves slam dunk in the final seconds gave Mooney a 31-26 halftime edge.

The Raiders kept gnawing at Mooney throughout the third quarter but could never reclaim the lead they relinquished early in the first period. With just over three minutes remaining in the third, though, two quick Harding baskets and some shoving by the teams sparked a raucous reaction from Harding supporters.

Mooney took a 40-39 lead into the fourth, and after a back-and-forth opening few minutes, the Cardinals managed to pull away thanks to the late-game heroics of senior guard Jibri Carter.

Carter put Mooney up 47-44 with 5:35 remaining before Rocco Turner drilled a pull-up three to put the Cardinals ahead by six. Franklin called a timeout in an attempt to break Mooney’s momentum, but Carter continued to put the game away.

In the final five minutes, Carter scored all eight of Mooney’s points, effectively icing the game by himself. He scored a game-high 24 points, with 15 coming in the fourth quarter. Harding’s Chaz Coleman led his team in points with 16.

Both coaches had high praise for his point guard.

“He’s got a lot of stop-and-go in his game. He can shoot it well enough to where you have to guard him, but he’s quick enough to get by you,” Franklin said. “We wanted to keep it out of his left hand, but we struggled with that all night, and that could be due to the stop-and-go and the herky-jerky [playstyle]. He’s a good player and he’s hard to stay in front of.”

Mooney coach Carey Palermo said he is proud of Carter’s patience and the leadership he has displayed.

“He always had the work ethic, he always had the talent. … I think he’s gotten better every game. But I think these last 10 games, he’s really just stepped up and been a leader,” Palermo said. “I kind of joked with him a second ago. I was like, ‘I think a little bit of me has finally rubbed off on you.’ There was a time in our huddle in the fourth quarter where he really got into a few guys. I mean, really got into them. I think his face was red.

“We’ve been waiting for someone on our team — anybody — because we have six seniors, they’re all leaders, to kind of step up and have uncomfortable conversations and kind of snap guys into gear. And he did that. All the points, the assists, steals that he gets, that’s awesome. But I’m not surprised by that. Leadership stuff is the stuff I’m very, very proud of. But he’s a special player. We’re very lucky to have him.”

Carter and Mooney now turn their attention to Friday’s rivalry rematch against Ursuline. The Irish handed the Cardinals their most recent defeat, a 69-58 loss Jan. 12. Since then, the Cardinals have won six straight.

Palermo and Carter both intimated the importance of the game; Palermo said Mooney (14-4, 3-1) need to limit the number of easy, uncontested baskets and avoid the “defensive breakdowns” he said plagued them in January.

Harding (9-7, 4-2) hosts Austintown Fitch on Friday in the first of two meetings between the conference rivals.

pbyers@tribtoday.com

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