Round 2 of Shaker Heights-Mentor was just as dramatic as Round 1.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, drama did not equal a second victory over West Virginia recruit Esa Ahmad and the talented Raiders.
Ahmad scored a team-high 21 points and did much of his damage at the foul line in the third and fourth quarters to help Shaker Heights hang on for a 63-62 win over host Mentor in front of a big crowd on Parents Night.
The Cardinals, which defeated the Raiders by two in December, were led by juniors Micah Potter and Joey Zaugg, who combined for 47 points.
Mentor (10-6, 3-3 NOC Valley) had a shot to win with time winding down, but a 3-pointer was no good at the buzzer.
“I think it will pay dividends,” said Mentor coach Bob Krizancic of playing in tournament-like conditions. “You want February games to be exactly like this. I think we’ll get a lot out of it.
“Our kids played hard for 32 minutes. That’s the bright spot. You knew every single possession how tough it was going to be. Those are the type of possessions we have to be good to be successful in these games.”
Shaker Heights (13-3, 6-1 NOC) which converted all 14 free throw attempts in the third quarter, missed four of their final six with 36.8 seconds left.
Potter (24 points, 14 rebounds) split a one-and-one, cutting Shaker Heights’ lead to 63-62. With 9.8 seconds remaining, Shaker Heights missed both free throws to give Mentor one last chance, but a final possession was unsuccessful with a 3-point try missing the mark.
“We were trying to get the ball under the arc with two seconds for a timeout,” said Krizancic.
Zaugg scored 15 of his 23 in the second half.
“I just got good looks and they sagged off a little,” Zaugg said. “I really should have hit that shot at the end. I should have dumped it off to Micah. In the beginning, the team was just moving. We have a good offensive motion going, it was just flowing.”
Krizancic said playing without starting point guard Andrew Valeri (thumb injury) gave other players meaningful opportunities, but turnovers hurt against a very good Shaker Heights team that is also in the Division I Solon-Euclid blended district.
“I think what kept us in it was our defensive pressure,” said Krizancic. “You don’t want to put them at the line. I think they hit 13 or 14 straight free throws. It just seemed like once we got down in the third, it was a catchup thing. You always want to at least tie. But we have to work on taking care of the basketball.
“We’ve addressed it since the first Shaker game and the Garfield game: taking care of the basketball. Our goal was to be very good without Andrew Valeri at the point. I think playing hard is the No. 1 goal. We accomplished that. Number two, we have to take care of the basketball. Then we can beat really good teams.”
Mentor trailed by seven on several occasions in the second half before rallying. Potter scored seven straight points to pull the Cardinals close in the fourth quarter.