It was never easy.
The Mentor boys basketball team topped Cleveland Heights 96-87 Saturday night and it was a victory in which they had to fight for every advantage.
The Cardinals pulled into an early double-digit lead during the first quarter but the Tigers fought back and only trailed by 5, 49-44, at the half.
The game was ultimately decided by a critical 16-2 run in the early third quarter in which Conner Krizancic hit three 3s and Jeff Foreman added another one.
Even then the Tigers fought back and shrunk the Cardinal's lead to eight points (76-64) by the end of the third quarter.
But Mentor put the game away with solid work at the charity stripe, making 16 of 21 foul shots in the final quarter.
Foul shooting was important in a game where the two teams combined for 51 fouls.
“This had the feeling of an old LEL game. It was very physical and we were going up against a very scary opponent who comes at you for 32 minutes,” Mentor Coach Bob Krizancic said to Ohio Varsity.
“I told (Coach) Andy (Suttell) I wouldn’t want to play them again. But this was a good chance to see where we stand heading into the tournament in a few weeks.”
Conner Krizancic led the Cards with with 21 points. Brandon Fritts, who missed much of the early season with a broken ankle, added 17. Foreman scored 16; Kade McClure, 11; and Michael Gallagher added nine points and seven rebounds.
Cleveland Heights was led by Marcus Bagley, who scored 21, and Antonio Harper, who scored 16 while grabbing six rebounds.
“It was a war out there,” Fritts said to Ohio Varsity. “It was very physical. They are a great team and they would not go away. They hustled for 32 minutes and they did a good job breaking our press. But I think we did good job on the boards against them. It was a great game against a great opponent.”
Mentor (14-3) is tied fo first in the NOC Valley with Garfield Heights and Shaker Heights. The district tournament begins on Feb. 10.