CLEVELAND HTS. — Sometimes, it takes Lorain a little while to find what coach John Rositano calls his team’s “championship level.”
Friday night was one of those instances. But the Titans found their top gear just in time, and ran away from Lutheran East for a convincing 74-56 Lake Erie League victory.
Lorain turned up its defensive pressure late in the third quarter, scoring 16 straight points to turn a three-point deficit into a 13-point lead. Lorain is 19-1 overall and 11-0 in the Lake Erie League, with a game against Warrensville Heights at Garfield Heights on Friday between the Titans and a perfect conference record.
Taevon Pierre-Louis was a big part of the sudden change. He scored 24 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and eventually locked down Lutheran East’s Nehemiah Benson, who dominated the game for earlier stretches.
“It was just about applying pressure to him and not gambling,” Pierre-Louis said. “I made him change shots he didn’t have to change in the first half.”
Pierre-Louis picked up two fouls early in the first quarter, and Benson took advantage. With the Falcons down two starters, he scored 14 points in the first 16 minutes, keeping the Falcons within five at half.
That gear Lorain finds? The Titans couldn’t early in the third and Benson feasted again, scoring Lutheran East’s first seven of the quarter, part of an 8-0 Falcons run to take their biggest lead of the game at 43-40.
But Pierre-Louis locked in on Benson and the Titans countered. Deonte Benejan hit a jumper, then Pierre-Louis dunked emphatically to give Lorain the lead. Devon Grant, who scored 22, hit a 3-pointer, and Pierre-Louis scored seven straight before Jordan Jackson closed that 16-0 run with a bucket.
“I was disappointed in the first half with how we defended,” Rositano said. “We didn’t do anything to disrupt them. From the five-minute mark of the third on, we got after them. We got back to defending, and once we got back to that, it was over — they couldn’t handle our defensive pressure.”
The Falcons (12-8, 6-4 LEL) were without two starters and top players, including EJ Farmer, one of the top guards in the area; he has a foot injury. Big man Otis Donald also missed the game, but Falcons coach Sam Liggins said each would be ready for the Division III tournament that starts in less than two weeks.
Lutheran East gave Lorain one of its toughest tests this season Dec. 18 at Lorain, in a 67-59 Titans win; like that game, the Falcons on Friday did their best to control Grant, holding him below his season average of 27 points. The Mr. Basketball candidate tallied 22.
The Falcons, like other Lorain opponents before them, doubled Grant at the top of the key, trapped him near the sideline — anything to get the ball out of his hands.
“(Grant and Pierre-Louis) are incredible,” Liggins said. “They’re seniors, really talented, and you always have your hands full playing against those guys.”
The Falcons were ranked
No. 12 in the most recent
Division III AP poll, and their small gym was rocking Friday night. Lorain’s 19 wins have come by an average of
20 points, so the Titans will take any challenge they can get.
“That’s what we feed off, environments like this,”
Pierre-Louis said. “That’s what I feed off — when players and crowds talk to us, we like to prove people wrong.”
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorain 74, Lutheran East 56
LORAIN (74): Aaron Whitehead 2-0-4,
Jordan Jackson 2-5-9, Taevon Pierre-Louis 10-4-24, Devon Grant 7-4-22, Deonte Benejan 5-2-13, Kam Davis 1-0-2.
LUTHERAN EAST (56): Davyon Adams 2-0-4, Sirr Hughes 5-1-12, Trevon Toney 3-2-8, Nehemiah Benson 12-6-32. Totals 22-9-56.
Lorain 14 22 15 23 — 74
Lutheran East 14 17 12 13 — 56
Three-point goals: Lorain 5-14 (Grant 4, Benejan), Lutheran East 3-11 (Hughes, Benson 2). Field goals: Lorain 27-51 (53 percent), Lutheran East 22-48 (46 percent). Free throws: Lorain 15-19 (79 percent), Lutheran East 9-16 (56 percent). Rebounds: Lorain 30 (Pierre-Louis 9), Lutheran East 27 (Benson 7). Total fouls: Lorain 15, Lutheran East 17. Turnovers: Lorain 15, Lutheran East 18. Fouled out: None.
Junior varsity: Lorain, 44-37.