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Minerva showed a lot of heart during its game at Alliance.
Trailing by as many as 14 points late in the third quarter, the Lions did not quit, and rallied to get to within one with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
The Aviators were able to withstand the onslaught, posting a 51-47 win at Harry Fails Gymnasium.
"Although the result is not what we came here for, I am as proud of our effort tonight as I have been all season," stated Head Coach Shawn Green. "This is the toughest place to play in our league. Alliance hasn't lost at home to a Division II school for over two full seasons. We had a chance at the end and I'm very pleased with our overall effort."
Alliance scored the first bucket of the game and never trailed, earning its 10th win of the season.
The hosts led 11-7 after the opening stanza, and extended their lead to 27-18 entering intermission.
The Aviators continued to play well in the third stanza, stretching their advantage to 40-26 with less than two minutes remaining on the clock.
Adam Gross started Minerva's comeback with a deep 3-pointer. Connor Wright converted a conventional 3-point play, Brock Croston scored on a short jumper, and Wright nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, pulling the Lions to within five at 42-37.
Brett Russell opened the final stanza with a bucket, cutting the lead to three. Sarrick Sampson scored five straight points for Alliance for a 47-41 lead.
Chris Lowe's 3-pointer and Jack Hanley's bucket pulled Minerva to within one at 47-46 with 2:40 remaining.
Dom Fletcher put Alliance up by three with a bucket seconds later. Wright split a pair of free throws with 1:48 to play, which turned out to be the final point for the Lions.
Leading by two, Alliance took some time off the clock. Minerva was forced to foul with 24 seconds to play. The Aviators missed the front end of the 1-and-1, but Sampson was there to grab the rebound. He passed it out to Hancock, who was fouled. Hancock made both free throws to secure the win.
Wright had another monster game with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals.
"Connor Wright might not win the Player of the Year in the NBC, but I will go on record and say he is the most valuable player in the league," noted Coach Green. "No other player fills every statistical category each night like he does. Every defense prepares to stop him and for him to put up 18-6-5-5 as a stat line and to do it on just 12 shot attempts is amazing. He is our leader and he makes all of us better."
Croston had eight points and three boards, Gross had seven points and five rebounds, and Hanley had seven points and three rebounds.
The Lions bounced back to beat Marlington 78-68.
Minerva jumped out to a 20-4 lead after the opening eight minutes of play and never were threatened as it improved to 6-4 in league play.
The Lions led 43-26 at halftime, and 59-40 heading into the final stanza.
Wright had 23 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and four steals; Hanley had 19 points and seven rebounds; Croston had 12 points and five boards; Lowe had 12 points; and Gross had eight points, three rebounds and three assists.
"What a great atmosphere tonight," noted Coach Green. "Our crowd and students section were amazing and our guys got off to a near-perfect start. We have played well in this gym this year and tonight was probably our best effort. We defended really well early on and were very productive from the field and the foul line.
"Jack Hanley and Chris Lowe each set career highs. Connor delivered maybe the best performance of his career. I'm happy with a lot of aspects from this game, but I think the most fulfilling is simply beating a good Marlington team and we continue to show we can compete in this league."
Minerva - 63
Sandy Valley - 61
Overtime was needed in this non-league contest with the Cardinals.
Sandy Valley led 28-26 at halftime, and stretched its advantages to 14 points with 3:26 remaining in the third stanza.
Minerva climbed back into the game by scoring the frame's final 10 points to trail by four.
Jack Hanley connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the Lions a 46-44 advantage.
Late in regulation, Wright converted two free throws to stretch Minerva's lead back up to three.
With less than 10 seconds to play, Sandy Valley's Nelson Mozden connected on a clutch 3-pointer, sending the game into overtime.
Croston scored a pair of baskets in the extra frame, and Wright hit a driving layup, giving the Lions a 3-point lead with under a minute to play.
Bryce Offenberger came through big for the Cardinals, converting three straight free throws to tie the game.
After a Minerva timeout, Brett Russell hit the biggest shot of his career, scoring on a floater inside the lane with four seconds remaining on the clock. The shot proved to be the game winner, as the Cardinals were unable to get a decent shot off as time expired.
Wright led the winners with 28 points. Croston had 11 points, and Gross and Hanley each had eight points.
Minerva (10-7, 6-4) will host Canton South this Friday, Feb. 3; before traveling to Louisville on Tuesday, Feb. 7.