BY MIKE POPOVICH
Repository sports writer
ALLIANCE It’s not always easy for the teams at the top.
Just ask the Alliance Aviators.
The Aviators have dug themselves out of a 21-point third quarter hole to keep their perfect league record intact and played without leading scorer J.J. Kukura.
Tuesday night, they were just trying to survive.
Marlington cut a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to three, but Alliance was able to hold on for a 66-59 boys high school basketball victory at Harry Fails Gymnasium.
Kukura poured in a game-high 31 points and grabbed eight rebounds as the Aviators improved to 10-2 overall and 8-0 in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference. The Dukes probably could smell a first-place tie during their comeback. Instead, they fell to 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the league.
“This team up to this point, we’ve been through a lot,” Alliance head coach Larry Kukura said. “We’ve seen it all.
“This is a pretty resilient team. We might not play well every night, but these guys fight, scrap and claw to the finish.”
A pair of 3-pointers from Shawn Kirk and Chris Andrews with less than five minutes left started Marlington’s comeback.
Thomas Mason followed with four straight free throws. Jacob Sawman, the Dukes’ 7-foot sophomore, converted a layup.
A 60-46 Alliance lead suddenly became 62-59 with just under two minutes left.
Marlington, however, wouldn’t score again.
The Aviators forced a couple of turnovers, and Kukura hit three free throws down the stretch to help Alliance pull away.
“The kids just battled back,” Dukes head coach Nick Evanich said of the comeback. “I think we had seven straight stops.
“They’re just too good to have lulls against, and we had a few lulls.”
The Aviators took advantage of them.
A 14-7 run helped Alliance cut a nine-point second quarter deficit to two at halftime. Marlington also went 6 1/2 minutes without a field goal in the third and fourth quarters. That’s when the Aviators turned a 37-37 tie into a 60-46 lead.
Aeyron Williams came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer to start Alliance’s decisive run. Kukura buried his third 3 of the third quarter. Kordelle Phillips was able to get into the flow of the offense in an 11-point second half.
The Alliance defense also was a factor.
“Third quarters have been big for us this year when we go to our press and try to get the game more up-tempo,” Larry Kukura said. “We started to get easier shots and more open shots than in the half court.”
Shawn Kirk led Marlington with 13 points. Sawman finished with 12. Mason had 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Jai’Ron Brackett added 10 points for the Aviators.
The Dukes’ only two NBC losses this season have come to Alliance. The Aviators won at Marlington 58-45 in December.
“I know our team is very disappointed,” Evanich said. “They felt tonight was our chance to be in a position to play for a league title down the stretch. Most likely that’s gone now, but we have a lot we can still play for.
“With the home schools hosting the first two rounds of the tournament now, getting a good seed is crucial so you can play on your home court. We certainly want to do that.”
Reach Mike at 330-580-8341 or
On Twitter: @mpopovichREP
Alliance 66, Marlington 59
MARLINGTON (9-3, 6-2) Devies 0 3-4 3, Kirk 5 2-2 13, Sawman 6 0-0 12, Andrews 1 5-6 8, Oakes 3 0-0 8, Mason 2 7-8 11, Clark 2 0-0 4. Totals 19 17-20 59.
ALLIANCE (10-2, 8-0) Dickson 2 0-0 4, Martin 3 0-3 7, Phillips 2 6-6 11, Brackett 3 4-6 10, Kukura 10 8-9 31, Williams 1 0-0 3. Totals 21 18-24 66.
Marlington 14 13 15 17 — 59
Alliance 11 14 26 15 — 66
3-point goals—Kukura 3, Oakes 2, Martin, Phillips, Williams, Kirk, Andrews. Fouls—Marlington 18-15. Fouled out—Mason. Rebounds—Marlington 35 (Mason 10), Alliance 32 (Kukura 8).