Mentor had two shots at victory over the weekend, both on the road against top-level opponents.
Both shots missed the mark.
Following a last-second loss at Solon on Feb. 3, the Cardinals fell at Viking Village to VASJ, 66-61, on Feb. 4.
"You want to play in games like this to get you ready for the tournament, but you certainly don't want to lose the close ones," Mentor coach Bob Krizancic said. "We had opportunities, but we need people that want the basketball late in games and need closers in tough environments like this. Hopefully, we learn and get better after a tough weekend like this."
Manning Trubisky stepped up with 10 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter. However, Mentor (11-5) could not maintain a 32-27 halftime lead.
The effort in the five-point win over visiting Mentor was more than enough for Kwansiak to be proud of.
Jerry Higgins (21 points) hit a pair of free throws late and added a clinching layup as the Vikings knocked off the Cardinals in front of a packed house at Viking Village.
“I’m not sure we played worse than in my seven years here than we did against Valley Christian, and to score 45 points and then come back and beat a team like Mentor who I have so much respect for is unbelievable. I’m not sure how we did it but it says a lot about these kids,” Kwasniak said.
“I think Coach (Bob Krizancic) is the best coach in Ohio at any level. His assistant coaches don’t get enough credit. I think we have some unbelievable assistants here at VASJ too. Win or lose, this is a great game to play and be part of and we will be better for it. It is all about March. I am not worried about what we do in January or February to be honest. We always focus on March and we have been very good there the last few seasons.”
Noah Newlon hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first half to pull VASJ (11-5) to within 32-27 and provide great momentum.
Vikings guard Terrance Lawler hit three 3s in the first half to keep the game close. Will Butler, who returned from injury was huge as a presence and with 13 second-half points. VASJ remained unbeaten at home as well.
Higgins scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half and was able to pull out the victory down the stretch for the Vikings.
Higgins hit two free throws with VASJ leading by one at 62-61 late in the fourth quarter. Mentor had a shot to tie the game, but a turnover and a layup by Higgins with time running out provided the final score.
Alonzo Gaffney added 10 points for the Vikings and Danny McGarry played an overall strong game with four points and critical stops on defense for VASJ.
“It was a great atmosphere for a high school basketball game and I would like to thank our fans and everyone who came out tonight because I really thought that made a difference,” Kwasniak said.
VASJ played a zone defense that slowed down Mentor and limited All-Ohio candidate Jack Korsok to 8 points.
“We wanted to get the tempo in our favor and if it was in the 70s or 80s we felt really good,” Krizancic said. “The zone hurt us obviously. We wanted guys who wanted the basketball late in the game. We need to be better in those situations. The last two games (75-73 loss at Solon on Feb. 3) aren’t good. You want to win those games, but hopefully you learn from this weekend and get better.”
Caden Kryz hit three 3s and finished with nine points for Mentor. Tadas Tatarunas added seven for the Cardinals.