EASTLAKE—Brian Skolny hit a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left to lead host North to a 61-59 win over visiting Perry in a non-conference thriller on Saturday.
The win was the second straight for the Rangers, who improved to 2-2 overall.
“I think these guys are trying to see how long I’m going to last on the sideline these last two games,” North coach Rob Koelling said of the Rangers back-to-back wins in close games. “It’s big. That’s a winning streak, first of all, and it shows these guys that the hard work they’re putting in.”
After the first eight minutes of play, it looked as if the Rangers were on their way to a blowout win.
Riley Cunningham hit three 3-pointers and Mikey Duleba hit a pair of long-range shots to lead the Rangers to a 31-12 lead.
The Pirates responded in the second with five 3-pointers of their own including one at the buzzer to pull to within 39-35 at the half.
All eight of North’s second half points came from the free throw line.
With 6-foot-6 Aaron Broja sidelined in early foul trouble, the Rangers lost their ability to push the ball into the paint and then back to the perimeter.
“When we get up by 20 points, we’ve got to stay the course and we’ve got to continue what we’re doing well,” Koelling said. “Early on that was moving the ball, transition and feeding Aaron inside, which opened up a lot of the perimeter shots. He got into foul trouble and that took us out of our element offensively.”
The Pirates closed out the first half on an 11-0 run and that momentum carried into the second half as Perry tied the game at 51-51 with 6:15 left to play.
“We talked about getting it to (single digits) by halftime and we get it down by four and the guys are all charged up,” Perry coach Al Iacofano said. “Then they go sit for 10 minutes and they have to come out and they have to try to recharge themselves again.”
Nate Cubbison, who led all scorers with 18 points, hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter as the Pirates mounted their comeback.
He hit the jumper that tied the game early in the fourth quarter and he finished the game with four threes.
With Perry playing the Rangers even in the second half the game came down to who would make the biggest plays down the stretch.
North converted on all four of its free throw tries down the stretch while the Pirates were just 5-of-10 from the line in the fourth quarter, which included a pair of misses inside the final minute.
“Skolny hit probably the two biggest free throws of his career here at North,” Koelling said. “That has to feel good doing that but it goes back to these guys having the ball in their hands. They rose to the occasion when the game mattered.”
Duleba led the Rangers with 17 points. Broja finished with 16, Cunningham added 11 and Skolny pitched in with nine.
Evan Liddington scored five of his six points in the second half.
“We needed to stay composed and get the ball in the hands of the guys we trust handling and who make good decisions,” Koelling said. “That’s Brian and Mikey. Evan came in late in the third quarter and added a spark. He turned his game around and started going downhill and attacking the basket.”
Drew Schiano also scored in double figures for the Pirates with 13 points.
“At the end of the day, we don’t feel like we lost it in the last two minutes,” Iacofano said. “We put ourselves in position after being down 18. We felt like we lost it expending the amount of energy we had to when we were down 18 points.”
North 61, Perry 59
Perry (0-1): Schiano 13, Kane 2, Rosati 3, Jo. Anderson 2, Reid 9, Cubbison 18, Ford 4, Cool 8
North (2-2, 1-0 WRC): Duleba 17, Qorri 2, Liddington 6, Cunningham 11, Broja 16, Skolny 9
Perry 12 23 9 15 — 59
North 31 8 12 10 — 61
Free throws: Perry 7 of 14, North 19 of 22; 3-pointers: Perry 8 (Cubbison 4, Schiano 2, Rosati 1, Reid 1), North 6 (Cunningham 3, Duleba 2, Skolny 1); Rebounds: Perry 31, North 23; Assists: Perry 11, North 11