INDEPENDENCE—Kyle Stefanski’s 3-pointer with 35 seconds left in the game gave Independence a chance to stun visiting Hawken in Friday’s Chagrin Valley Conference showdown but the Hawks hit a pair of free throws and blocked Independence’s game-tying shot as time expired to pull out a 51-48 win.
“I’m very proud of our effort,” said Independence coach Hugh McMahon. “We stepped up and we defended phenomenally the whole game. We missed a couple rotations down the stretch. I think maybe the moment got to us a little bit. The moment definitely got to us as far as taking care of the basketball down the stretch.”
Stefanski’s three pulled the Blue Devils to within 49-48 and after a missed layup on the other end Stefanski pulled down the rebound and pushed the ball up the floor with 26 seconds to play. Back-to-back jump balls gave the ball back to the Hawks with eight seconds left in the game.
Hawken junior Brendan Paul was fouled and converted a one-and-one to push the Hawks lead to three.
Matt Terrano found Alec Jendre in the right corner but his shot was blocked as time ran out.
“We had four turnovers with a chance to, down two late,” McMahon said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to rally around and pick up each other and do a better job at that point in time as a team but I’m really, really proud of the effort. We’re improving as the season goes on and we’re putting ourselves in a position to win. We’ve just got to push through and execute down the stretch.”
McMahon considered holding the ball for the final 28 seconds but with his offense struggling he opted to push for a shot.
“We were debating whether to hold it for the last shot or not,” he said. “With us, at that point in time, I just wanted a shot. Let’s execute something and if we get a good shot lets take it. We had been debating to hold it but it had been a hot potato for a little while there so we were just looking to get a decent shot. That’s where you’ve really got to execute. We had a couple openings but guys missed it a little bit. “
Stefanski finished with a game-high 17 points.
“Kyle has really stepped up,” McMahon said. “He’s captain of the team now, one of the captains, and so he’s really taken that leadership role. The last three games he’s been over 20 twice and had 17 tonight. I like how he’s willing to take that shot. The last play, we were looking for him. We set some nice back screens for him but we weren’t able to get it off. The guys are rallying around him as a leader and we just have to pick each other up in some other positions as well.”
Mario Figliola pitched in with 15 for the Blue Devils.
“Mario had a tough start,” McMahon said. “He had some problems and he got here right before the game. I’m really proud of the effort he put out there in a pretty trying personal circumstance. That’s very impressive. The guys picked him up.”
Paul led Hawken with 15 points.
Independence dropped to 3-10 overall and 2-5 in league play but the Blue Devils have been much more competitive in recent games. That’s important with tough league games against Berkshire and Richmond Heights next week.
“Overall, I think our effort is there, we just need a little bit more execution down the stretch,” McMahon said. “We’re going to knock off a couple of these teams along the way here.”