Lorain's Taevon Pierre-louis throws a pass while pressured along the sideline by Justin Wodtly of Cleveland Heights in the first quarter. DAVID RICHARD / CHRONICLE
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS — Fresh off their first loss of the season, the Lorain Titans were not about to let adversity get the better of them a second time.
Cleveland Heights rallied from a 17-point third-quarter deficit, but the Titans found their resolve and squeezed out a 75-71 win in a battle of Lake Erie League unbeatens.
Lorain, ranked sixth in the state, improved to 10-1 — its only loss to St. Vincent-St. Mary — and 5-0 in the league. The Tigers fell to 6-4, 3-1.
“We just shook everything off,” said the Titans’ Taevon Pierre-Louis, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. “This week was big. Practices felt like games this week. I’m proud of my teammates. This was a big turnaround getting a ‘W’ today.
“That was a great Heights team, they have size. We got outrebounded last game. I thought we got better at that.”
The Titans were clicking on all cylinders in the first two and a half quarters. They dropped 30 points in the first thanks to strong 3-point shooting and defense.
Lorain forced turnovers on its first four defensive possessions, leading to a 9-0 lead capped by a three from Jordan Jackson, one of four Lorain players in double figures with 10.
Deonte Benejan pitched in 15, scoring 12 in the second and third quarters, including a three in the final 30 seconds of the half to give Lorain a 17-point lead — one it would maintain until the four-minute mark of the third.
“I was in a slump for a couple of games, but my teammates told me to just keep shooting the ball,” Benejan said. “They kept trusting me with the ball, so I was able to get a lot of shots up and they were going in.”
Things started to turn Cleveland Heights’ way midway through the third and snowballed into a 31-13 run that gave the Tigers a one-point lead with three minutes left. The Tigers outscored Lorain 9-2 to close the third quarter down 61-54.
Devon Grant, who led all scorers with 28 points, and Pierre-Louis kept the Tigers at bay with seven combined points, giving Lorain a 68-59 lead with 5:22 left. The Tigers then rattled off eight unanswered thanks to a technical on the Lorain bench. Jae’lyn Withers converted the free throws and then, on the ensuing possession, Robert Morgan buried a three to cut the Titans’ lead to one.
Nigel Martin, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, converted on a layup for Cleveland Heights’ first lead of the game.
“They made a couple of plays and we got outside of ourselves a little bit,” Lorain coach John Rositano said. “That’s what good teams do, though, they made their run. But what elite teams do is fight through adversity and we got some big baskets down the stretch to win in a really good basketball climate. It was a lot of fun to coach this kind of game.”
Grant and Jackson were money from the free throw line, combining to score the last seven points with just one miss. Grant finished the game 11-of-14, extending his school record for consecutive free throws made to 31 before missing in the second quarter on his fourth attempt. He went 5-for-6 in the final three minutes, ending the game with five straight.
Jackson, however, knocked down two to give Lorain a four-point lead with 11 seconds left. Cleveland Heights got off a field goal in the final 10 seconds, but Grant iced the game.
“I just went back to last year when I hit them against Vermilion and Lutheran East,” Jackson said. “I was in this position before as a sophomore and now I’m a junior. I knew I could knock them down.”
Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @CSweeneyCT on Twitter.
Lorain 75, Cleveland Heights 71
LORAIN (75): Jordan Jackson 2-4-10, Deonte Benejan 5-2-15, Taevon Pierre-Louis 5-2-12, Devon Grant 8-11-28, Kam Davis 0-0-0, Aaron Whitehead 2-0-6, Aiden Brown 2-0-4. Totals 24-19-75.
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS (71): Anthony Johnson 1-0-3, Nigel Martin 6-5-18, Jae’lyn Withers 6-5-19, Christian Dillard 4-3-11, Jamol Coles 0-0-0, Robert Morgan 5-1-13, Manny Hill 3-0-7, Harris Kern 0-0-0. Totals 25-14-71.
Lorain 30 18 13 14 — 75
Cleveland Heights 14 18 22 17 — 71
Three-point goals: Lorain 8-17 (Benejan 3, Jackson 2, Whitehead 2, Grant), Cleveland Heights 7-20 (Morgan 2, Withers 2, Hill, Johnson, Martin). Field goals: Lorain 24-49 (49 percent), Cleveland Heights 25-48 (52 percent). Free throws: Lorain 19-25 (76 percent), Cleveland Heights 14-28 (50 percent). Rebounds: Lorain 25 (Pierre-Louis 10), Cleveland Heights 28 (Martin 10). Total fouls: Lorain 24, Cleveland Heights 19. Fouled out: Morgan. Turnovers: Lorain 7, Cleveland Heights 14.
Junior varsity: Lorain, 37-35