Kelly, who scored 18 of Avon’s 26 second-half points, sparked the Eagles to their first win of the season after five losses.
And it was their first win ever in the annual Lorain County Holiday Classic.
Kelly’s work provided the impetus for a come-from-behind 44-39 victory over backyard antagonist Avon Lake, which defeated Avon twice last season.
The Eagles’ reward is a championship game date at 7:30 tonight with tall, fast Lorain, a winner over Elyria in the opener of Friday’s doubleheader. Avon Lake (2-5) and Elyria will clash in the 6 o’clock consolation game.
Kelly finished with a game-high 21 points, nine each in the third and fourth quarters. He also nailed two of the Eagles’ 3-point baskets. He said he played more aggressively in the second half.
“Basically, my shots started falling,” he said. “I kind of had a slow start to the season, so this is a relief for me. This one was special. We’ve had close games and we should have more wins. But this being the first one, it’s nice. We lost to them twice last year and we’ve never won in this tournament.”
Eagles coach Kevin Sapara praised his team for the dramatic comeback and Kelly’s second-half performance.
“He’s our guy,” Sapara said. “He’s a senior, he’s our leader, the captain and he’s been here before. He’s our only returning starter from last year and we rely on him for a lot.
He did a great job down the stretch, hit some big shots. I know we were down three (39-36) and he came out and hit a big shot from the corner and got us right back where we were.”
Avon needed every point Kelly and the Eagles could muster. They trailed 14-11 after eight minutes and 24-18 at the break.
They still lagged 26-20 less than two minutes into the third quarter, when a field goal by Dan Durrin and back-to-back scores by Kelly tied the game at 26. After the first of Kelly’s 3-pointers late in the period, Avon held a 29-28 lead going into the fourth.
There were three ties and three lead changes in the final eight minutes, and the Shoremen led 39-36 after Christian Jones and Seth Muck each made two foul shots as the clock ticked down toward 3 minutes.
But Kelly’s dramatic 3-pointer tied it at 39 with 2:37 left. He drove for a shorr-range shot with 1:24 to play, then made a free throw for a 42-39 edge with 27 seconds to play. Durrin’s two foul shots with 17 seconds left created the final score. The Eagles won the second half, 26-15.
Avon worked harder defensively the second half, Avon Lake hit a cold spell and it showed. The Shoremen made nearly half their field goal attempts (47.6 percent) in the first half, but shot barely 20 percent from the floor in the second. They missed several close-range chances after halftime.
“We have to make shots,” Shoremen coach Eric Smith said. “You know, we’re giving up 43 points a game. Tonight, we give up 44 and we lose. I mean, how many shots did we miss from two feet? That’s the difference. That’s the ball game right there. We don’t finish at the rim.
“We’re up three with about two minutes to go and they come down and hit a three because we don’t rotate,” Smith said. “We go down and go to the rim and miss a shot, get an offensive rebound, miss another shot and they go down; the guy drives baseline, pulls up and hits a little five footer. That’s the ball game.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Avon 44, Avon Lake 39
AVON LAKE (39): A.J. Outcalt 1-0-3, Max Seipel 1-1-3, Quinn Cantleberry 0-0-0, Jason Hessel 2-0-4, Christian Jones 5-3-13, Jace Russell 1-0-3, Seth Muck 3-3-9, Matt Molina 2-0-4. Totals 15-7-39.
AVON (44): Dan Durrin 4-2-10, Brian Kelly 8-3-21, Michael Smigel 0-0-0, Zack Torbert 2-0-4, Jordan Lawrence 1-0-2, Chris Maxwell 1-0-2, Will Ybarra 1-0-2, Jeffrey Laraway 1-0-3. Totals 18-5-44.
Avon Lake 14 10 4 11 — 39
Avon 11 7 11 15 — 44
Three-point goals: Avon Lake 2-9 (Russell, Outcalt); Avon 3-15 (Kelly 2, Laraway). Field goals: Avon Lake 15-45 (33.3 percent); Avon 18-40 (45 percent). Free throws: Avon Lake 7-11; Avon 5-13. Rebounds: Avon Lake 22; Avon 26. Turnovers: Avon Lake 17; Avon 17. Fouled out: Muck.