When local high school basketball fans think of Jordan Nwora, they think lethal shooter who can drain the three and score close to 30 points without breaking a sweat.
Nwora makes the game look easier than it really is just because of his gifted talent, but the 6-foot-7 returning first team All-Western New Yorker works hard at being a difference-maker for defending state champion Park.
He showed that side of his game to a sellout crowd of more than 1,200 at Depew High School on Friday night, as his hustle plays mixed in with clutch shooting sparked a 21-9 fourth quarter.
That run at a crucial time enabled the Pioneers to win a showdown between unbeaten teams at the ADPRO Public/Private Schools Challenge. Nwora scored eight of his 17 points during the final quarter, including five straight points that gave his side the lead for good, as Park rallied to beat Amherst, 67-61, in the nightcap of the boys basketball tripleheader.
Hunter Anderson scored a game-high 28 points for the Pioneers (5-0), including eight during the fourth quarter. But it was Nwora, the former Amherst Tiger, who overcame a rough first half and provided the energy jolt Park needed. The Pioneers, No. 2 in the News Large School poll, went on to win a playoff-like contest between neighboring schools who are rivals simply because everyone knows each other from both sides and wanted bragging rights.
“People don’t give Jordan enough credit for his effort,” winning coach Mike Battaglia said. “He wants to win badly. He plays hard. The second half he gave up shots and did simple things, easy but hard, getting on the glass and playing really good defense.”
Nwora made the defensive play of the game with 1 minute, 59 seconds left with the Pioneers leading by three. He turned it over at halfcourt to the Tigers’ TC Brown. Brown seemed to be going in for the layup except Nwora put on the jets and blocked his shot from behind. Seconds later, Nwora drained a trey that gave Park a six-point lead.
“It was my turnover, I had to get back,” said Nwora, who grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots. “When it comes to TC, it’s personal between him and me. We’ve known each other for so long I couldn’t just let him have a wide open layup. I had to have that one.”
That wasn’t the only one he had to have. Earlier in the quarter, Anderson spotted Nwora wide open in the right corner for the three-pointer that gave the Pioneers the lead for good at 54-52. Seconds later, after a Park miss, that blur in black and orange crashing the boards from the baseline won the battle for the rebound and put back the miss to increase Park’s lead.
“You can’t hold him down for long,” Anderson said of Nwora, the MVP of last year’s state Federation Tournament.
Both sides played a back-and-forth first quarter that ended in a 19-19 tie.
Amherst, No. 3 in the Large School poll, pulled away slightly in the second quarter as Nathan Woldu scored seven of his 18 points during the frame. The Tigers led at halftime, 34-29.
Amherst led, 50-40, with 2:51 left in the third on Brown’s three-pointer. At that point, it seemed the Tigers were on the verge of earning a signature win.
Instead, Park’s big-game experience started to show. The Pioneers switched to a 2-2-1 zone that produced two quick turnovers. What was once a double-digit deficit wound up becoming a six-point hole after the quarter.
Bye, bye upset, hello learning experience.
“They just made one more run than we did,” Tigers coach Chris Kensy said. “It was a playoff atmosphere seven games into the season. You can’t ask for more than that if you’re a coach or a high school basketball player. The crowd was alive.”