By ANDY WOLF
FREMONT — Findlay High boys basketball coach Jim Rucki admitted it’s been a long time since he’s been as worried about an opponent as he was in longtime rival Fremont Ross on Tuesday night.
Even though the Little Giants entered the game winless in league play, they validated his hunch by never going away.
The Trojans led the entire game, but needed a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to close out a 61-50 win in Three Rivers Athletic Conference play at the Purple Pit.
“You worry differently when you play somebody that’s 20-0,” Rucki said. “When somebody is 3-13 and they gave us a great game the last time and didn’t have two of their guys. …
“They’re playing much better and they’re dangerous.”
Findlay improved to 11-7 overall, 6-5 in the TRAC.
Sophomore A.J. Adams led the Trojans with a game-high 21 points plus seven rebounds. Senior R.J. Nunn put in 19 points, three steals and three rebounds.
Bryce McKinstry and Hayden Lehman had 12 and 11 points, respectively, for Fremont Ross (3-14, 0-11 TRAC). Lehman grabbed eight rebounds, three offensive, while McKinstry had five rebounds, four offensive.
Findlay took the first matchup 60-53 on Dec. 21 during a string of six wins but had lost four of five games entering Tuesday.
Rucki was pleased to recognize his team’s readiness early.
The Trojans scored the first eight points on their first four possessions, with two baskets by Nunn off turnovers and two more by Adams.
They led 19-13 after the first frame and 31-24 by halftime.
But the Little Giants were ready, too.
They never let Findlay get ahead by more than 10 points in the first three quarters and clawed back within one possession on six occasions.
The last came on a three-point play by McKinstry to make it 48-45 with 6:49 to go.
Just as Findlay started the game, it put it away by scoring four times unanswered.
First, Nunn drove right down the lane for a bucket.
After a Ross unforced turnover on a second-chance rebound, Ryan Roth took his turn to drive to the rim to put the Trojans up 52-45.
The Little Giants tried to counter as Ben Gedeon missed an open look from the 3-point arc.
Nunn, the last man in transition, pulled up from the right wing and drained the 3-ball, prompting a timeout by Fremont Ross coach John Cahill.
At the end of the run, Findlay held its largest lead at 57-45 with 4 minutes to go.
“We kind of got what we wanted a few times in a row,” Rucki said. “Then, R.J. hit that three kind in transition. That’s one you’re not sure about, but it went in.
“We have to give him and Ryan (Roth) the green light most of the time because they can hit that shot.”
Ross tried to claw back via the 3-pointer but couldn’t.
Gedeon stopped a string of four Ross possessions with a missed 3-ball by scoring via an offensive rebound to end the 9-0 run.
The Little Giants started 6 of 15 from long range but missed their last nine attempts in the fourth quarter.
“I’m really happy with the way we’re competing right now,” Cahill said. “My hat’s off to Findlay.
“I think they’re a great team and get a lot out of what they have. It’s a credit to their coach and their players.”
Findlay executed its offense at a rate of 54 percent (27 of 50) and didn’t commit only six turnovers — one in the first half.
Yet, the Little Giants made the extra plays to stay in it.
Fremont won the rebounding battle 32-26, 12-5 on the offensive boards, and got 10 of their first 35 points on second-chance opportunities.
“We’re not real big, bulk-wise,” Rucki said. “That’s been an issue for us all year, defensive rebounding. We just have to continue to try to work and get better at it.”
Roth chipped in five rebounds and five assists with five points. Chris Strzempka also had 10 points.
Jabryis Heidelburg totaled nine points, three rebounds and three assists for the Little Giants. Bryce Root scored all 10 of his points in the first half.
“Findlay is a good basketball team; it was one we were really excited to play,” Cahill said.
FINDLAY (11-7, 6-5 TRAC)
Stillings 1-0–2, M. Roth 2-0–4, R. Roth 2-0–5, Nunn 8-2–19, Adams 9-2–21, Strzempka 5-0–10. TOTALS: 27-50 4-7 — 61.
FREMONT ROSS (3-14, 0-11)
Lehman 2-6–11, Heidelburg 4-0–9, Gedeon 3-0–8, Root 3-2–10, McKinstry 5-2–12. TOTALS: 17-46 10-15 — 61.
Findlay 19 12 13 17 — 61
Fremont Ross 13 11 15 11 — 50
3-POINT GOALS: Findlay 3-12 (R. Roth, Nunn & Adams); Fremont Ross 6-24 (Gedeon & Root 2, Lehman & Heidelburg).
REBOUNDING: Findlay 26 (Adams 7); Fremont Ross 32 (Lehman 8).
TURNOVERS: Findlay 6, Fremont Ross 14.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Findlay, 43-39.