by Frank Aceto | Associate Sports Editor
Macedonia -- It has been a downright wonderful turnaround season for the Tallmadge boys basketball team.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, their magical reversal won't lead to a Suburban League title.
Tallmadge's hopes of a league title took a serious hit after losing a 58-55 decision to Nordonia Feb. 7 in Macedonia.
With the loss, the Blue Devils, who also lost a 53-39 decision to league rival Wadsworth Feb. 11 at James O. Maddox Court, fell to 11-8 overall and 7-5 in the Suburban League. The Knights, who posted a 60-58 victory over Wadsworth in overtime Feb. 11, was 11-7 overall and 6-4 in the league as of press time.
"It hurts," Tallmadge first-year head coach Mike Bluey said after the loss to Nordonia. "We were at a point where we have zero margin for error. We had to win our next few [league] games."
Nordonia led from start to finish and scored the first 10 points of the game.
The Knights led by as many as 13 (49-36) when Max Hartman buried a 3-pointer late in the third quarter.
But Tallmadge stormed back and cut its deficit to a deuce (56-54) when Andrew Francesconi knocked down a tough jumper in the paint with approximately two minutes left.
The Blue Devils had a chance to tie or take the lead on their next possession, but they had a couple of shots rim out.
David Murray converted two free throws to give Nordonia a 58-54 advantage with 23.8 seconds left.
Francesconi made 1 of 2 free throws with 14.6 seconds left to cut the Knights' advantage to 58-55 and Tallmadge got the ball back with 8 seconds left.
The Blue Devils got the ball past midcourt and called time-out with 2.8 left.
Colten Stricker's 3-point attempt from the right side hit the backboard and the side of the rim before harmlessly falling to the floor as the buzzer sounded.
"The fact that they didn't give up is a testament to the kids," Bluey said. "They're great kids and that's why I'm proud to be their coach."
Four players reached double digits in scoring for Nordonia. Hartman drained five 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 17 points.
Eli Linder finished with 11 points and Murray and Diallo Niamke each scored 10 points for the Knights.
Francesconi had a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds for Tallmadge. Francesconi did most of his damage on drives to the basket and short jumpers in traffic.
It didn't matter who guarded him, Francesconi could not be stopped for most of the game.
"Our lack of size hurts us and Francesconi took advantage," Nordonia head coach Matt Cash said. "It was a nice win for us. Coach Bluey has done a great job."
While Francesconi dominated the inside, the Knights were able to thwart any comeback with their stellar perimeter shooting.
Nordonia made eight 3-pointers on the evening, including three in the first quarter. Despite the hot start, the Knights were up just 16-11 after the first eight minutes, thanks to the play of Francesconi. The 6-foot-4 forward had nine points in the period.
Nordonia built its lead back up to nine (27-18) when Murray converted a 3-point play with a little less than three minutes remaining in the first half.
Again, the Blue Devils responded.
Tallmadge concluded the half with a 7-0 run that was highlighted by a 3-pointer from Stricker with three seconds left.
The Blue Devils earned a 45-44 win in the junior varsity contest.
Tallmadge was scheduled to conclude regular-season play Feb. 13.
The Blue Devils were set to host league rival Cloverleaf Feb. 12 before heading to Uniontown to play Green Feb. 13. Results of those games were not available at press time.
Against Wadsworth, Stricker led the way with 16 points and Francesconi finished with 15 points.
Tallmadge earned the fifth seed at the Stow-Munroe Falls Division II sectional-district tournament.
The Blue Devils are scheduled to host seventh-seeded Revere in a sectional semifinal contest Feb. 26 at James O. Maddox Court. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
If Tallmadge beats Revere, it is scheduled to host sixth-seeded Streetsboro in a sectional title contest March 1 at 7 p.m.
The top four seeds are Cleveland Central Catholic, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Akron Archbishop Hoban and Cleveland John Hay.