TALLMADGE: Andrew Francesconi was a few free-throw attempts from having to legally take up residence on the foul line at Tallmadge High School on Friday night.
Francesconi, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, went 18-for-19 from the free-throw line on his way to scoring 32 points in the Blue Devils’ 71-58 win over defending Suburban League champion Nordonia.
“Free throws are free,” Francesconi said. “You’ve got to make them.”
The Knights (3-2, 2-2) came out of the gate playing like the team that has given Tallmadge fits over the past couple of years and won the past two league championships.
It took Tallmadge nearly four minutes to score. By then, Nordonia had built an 11-0 lead.
“I think we were on mental overload to start the game,” Tallmadge coach Michael Bluey said. “We were excited and anxious to be back at home. We haven’t played at home in three games. I think we were almost over-ready.”
When Francesconi finally scored the first bucket for the Blue Devils, Bluey called it a “sigh of relief.”
“You just saw guys kind of relax and start playing.”
The Blue Devils (5-2, 3-1) were able to battle back and cut their deficit to 18-16 by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was when Francesconi and the Blue Devils were able to put their stamp on the game and take over.
After Nordonia scored the first basket, Tallmadge went on a 12-0 run to take a 28-21 lead.
Francesconi went to the line eight times in the second quarter and made them all.
The Knights play a tight, full-court press defense that resulted in 24 fouls, including nine in the first quarter and 14 in the first half.
“You do foul more when you’re a pressing team, but that’s more than we usually foul,” Nordonia coach Matt Cash said. “We had to play the whole entire bench because we had five guys with two fouls in the first half.”
The Blue Devils started the second half with a 34-29 lead before Nordonia’s Alex Alders scored seven of the half’s first 13 points to tie the score at 38-38.
But that’s when the Blue Devils went on a 21-3 third-quarter run that defined the outcome of the game.
“I thought we came out flat and I challenged our guys to get up on our toes and increase our intensity,” Bluey said. “And they responded.”
Francesconi’s grabbed 10 rebounds as the Blue Devils were able to outrebound the Knights 35-25 despite not having a significant size advantage.
Sophomore guard Justin Cambria, only 6-1, also grabbed 10 rebounds alongside 10 points.
Colten Stricker scored 22 points for Tallmadge, including four 3-pointers, acting as a perfect complement to Francesconi’s physical presence inside.
“When you have guys on the perimeter that can knock down shots, it’s hard to consistently double-team Andrew,” Bluey said.
Senior guard Eli Linder led the Knights with 15 points and six assists.