BY JAY KUNDE
ROCHESTER HILLS — For any team that graduates 11 players and has a new coach, expectations are rarely through the clouds. At Rochester Stoney Creek, the Cougars are in such a position, yet found the win column in the opening week.
Stoney Creek came back from an eight-point first-half deficit Friday to down visiting Troy Athens 56-54 in OAA White Division boys basketball play.
The Cougars picked up a pair of free throws from two different players in the final 25 seconds to hold off the Red Hawks.
“Even though we only have a few kids back I still have high expectations,” said first-year Stoney Creek head coach Steve Norgrove. “They’re basketball players. It shouldn’t matter what class they are in. It’s can they play? Now experience might make a difference. But they can play. They’re basketball players. I don’t believe in being young and (making excuses). We’ll make mistakes.”
Only Alex Jones, Taylor Rawlings and Tyler Curtis returned for the Cougars this season, and Jones was the only player that started some games last season for retired coach Ken Belote.
It was the play of Curtis and Jones who came through in the clutch for Stoney Creek. After Athens tied the game at 54-54, Curtis split a one-and-one free throw situation with 22 seconds left. After a turnover forced by Jones, the senior guard made another shot from the foul line with two seconds left for the two-point lead.
Athens could only muster a failed pass off the backboard at the end while trying to tie the score.
“This was an important win for us,” said Norgrove. “We did not want to start 0-2 in league play. We have some important games coming up and this will help with our confidence. We did not want to face Ferndale on Monday with two league losses.”
Athens prepared for the game’s final play, but didn’t execute.
“We work on special situations at the end of every practice,” said Athens coach Dave Scott, who switched over from girls basketball at Athens this season. “We were trying to get a shot but we threw the ball too high. The execution wasn’t there.”
The Red Hawks led by one (53-52) with 4:12 left in the fourth quarter, when Jolly Grewal drained a three-pointer from the top of the key. Later in the period, Athens knotted the scored at 54-all when Iowa-bound center Jake Duzey scored on a lay-up with 1:11 to play.
The Red Hawks did not score again.
Grewal finished with 15 points and Duzey added 13 points and 13 rebounds for Athens. Lonnie Bolden chipped in with 10 points for the Red Hawks, who turned the ball over 19 times in the game.
“We’re still learning. It’s little mental things,” continued Scott. “Guarding your man, not switching, not running around and chasing when all we need to do is guard. It’s the little things you need to learn with a different system. There’s always a transition with a new coach and with a lot of new player that played on the junior varsity last year getting minutes on the varsity.”
Rawlings scored a game-high 18 points with 13 rebounds for Stoney Creek. Jones finished with 11 points and four steals and Curtis had nine points and seven rebounds for the Cougars.
Athens opened the game on an 18-10 run, only to see the Cougars reverse that trend and take a 34-30 lead into the locker room.
— Dan Stickradt contributed.