The Solon basketball boys (17-6) owned a whopping 5-4 lead at the quarter mark of their Division I district quarterfinal game against No. 6-seed Bedford (9-15) on Saturday night in a true home game for the Comets.
Both teams combined to shoot four-of-18 from the field in that opening frame.
Seeded No. 3 in the 12-team Twinsburg District, the Comets were 2-3 when scoring fewer than 50 points in the regular season – including a 43-42 victory against Strongsville and a 48-40 win against Harvey – but they were going to have to find a way to grind out a low-scoring affair in their playoff opener for a 48-36 victory.
“I was a little worried for us, being that it was so many guys’ first tournament game,” Solon sixth-year head coach Tony DeCesare said about having four new starters on the floor from last season’s campaign that finished with a loss to Mentor in the district semis.
“I thought that might show early on, and it did,” he said. “You could see the nerves with shooting, turnovers and some things that were uncharacteristic of how our guys have played. But, once they settled in, in the second half, I thought we played really good basketball.”
Solon owned a 16-10 lead at intermission with trouble finding buckets in the paint against Bedford’s zone, as well as against Bearcat 6-foot-4 sophomore Malik Simmons, who would finish the night with four blocks.
Defensively, Solon did a really good job of making Bedford work for shots, specifically with 6-foot-2 Comet junior Dylan Vauss holding Bearcat 6-foot-3 standout junior Chaze Harris to a team-high 11 points, DeCesare said.
“We made them take challenged, tough shots,” the coach said. “It looked like two teams playing in a big game they probably weren’t comfortable in, and I think we did a little bit better of a job settling into it. But it took a while. It wasn’t a great offensive game from either side.”
Vauss did get in some foul trouble guarding Harris, but Solon 6-foot junior Marcus Steele, the Comets’ main varsity veteran, didn’t miss a beat when he had to switch onto Harris, DeCesare said. Steele also picked apart Bedford’s zone with five assists.
Offensively, Solon 6-foot junior Jimmie Williams finished with a game-high 15 points to help get the Comets motoring along in the second half and take a 28-18 upper hand after three quarters.
Solon 6-foot-4 sophomore Sam Marbury finished with a baker’s dozen, including four 3-pointers, to propel a 20-point fourth quarter and lock up the Comets’ 48-36 victory
“Marbury hit a couple big threes to open the quarter, and Jimmie Williams also had a little stretch where he scored six straight,” DeCesare said. “So, we got to a point where we felt comfortable with a 15-point lead for most of the fourth.”
Solon went with an athletic starting lineup, which also included 6-foot junior Cam Brown, while junior Pat McQuaide and freshman Rayquan Thompson represented the Comets’ short bench with injuries sidelining seniors Chad Marks and Brandon Chambers.
Six-foot-3 Chambers is the Comets’ closest thing to a big, while Marks is a knockdown shooter from deep. DeCesare said their return is questionable for Solon’s district semifinal game against No. 2-seed Garfield Heights (17-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Twinsburg High School.
“They’re really good,” DeCesare said of the Bulldogs. “We’re going to have to take care of the ball. We’re going to have to control the pace. We’re going to have to do a good job of keeping them out of transition and off the offensive glass. Those are the areas I think they have their advantage against us.
“If we can do those things and make them play a game in the 40s, I think we’re going to be in a good position.”
Solon is 1-5 in games their opponents score more than 60 points this season.
US beats buzzer at Harvey
Nearly a half quarter remained in a tie game, but there would only be one more shot.
If No. 4-seed Harvey (15-8) was content with sitting back in its zone and allowing No. 5-seed University School (18-6) to take that final attempt, in a 40-40 game, then the Prepper cagers were going to do so in a Division I district semifinal on Saturday in Painesville.
And it wouldn’t be US 6-foot junior Cam Smith’s first time with the ball in his hands with the game on the line, after he converted a layup at the buzzer for a 63-62 victory against Western Reserve Academy on Jan. 11.
In the closing moments of Saturday’s road playoff contest, Smith drove the lane and capped off a 14-point night with an up-and-under bucket for the 42-40 game-winner with five seconds remaining.
University 6-foot-1 junior Josh Bickerstaff put the game on ice with a steal during the ensuing inbound pass.
“It was awesome for Cam, and it was tremendous for our team,” University fourth-year head coach Sean McDonnell said. “He made a buzzer-beater at the end of our WRA game, and we felt supremely confident with the ball in his hands.
“We were confident with all of our guys making a play. It was more a matter of when we were going to make the play, trying like heck not to give the ball back to Harvey with too much time. It was great that Cameron ended up with the ball, got a good first step on the guy, and he won the game for us.”
Harvey owned a 19-12 lead at the quarter mark, before University’s defense held the Raiders to seven points in each of the latter three periods. The Preppers trailed by two points at intermission and led by one after the third.
Entering the game, University was averaging 65 points, while Harvey was scoring 53 points an outing.
“We tend to try to get more possessions in our games than maybe a lot of other teams,” McDonnell said. “Harvey, to their credit, did a great job on defense and made it more of a half-court game than we typically would want.”
McDonnell said that Harvey has a pair special players in 6-foot-3 senior Thomas Bishop, 14 points, and 6-foot-4 sophomore Rod Coffee, 13 points, and, if the Preppers could take the final shot without those two guys having a chance to win it themselves, then they certainly were going to be comfortable with that.
Instead of taking a bad shot, University decided to take the last shot, the coach said.
“Towards the end of the game, we had a lead,” McDonnell said. “There were times where it was tied. But Harvey was sitting in their zone, and, at a certain point in time, we just made the decision that, if a layup presented itself, if a dunk presented itself, we would have taken it.
“But if they were going to sit back in their zone, then we were going to be comfortable hanging onto the ball until we had as little time as we could left. And that’s how it played out for Cameron.”
In addition to Smith’s 14 points, University’s Bickerstaff finished with eight, 5-foot-9 junior Faris Dahman and 6-foot-2 junior Asaan Snipes-Rea dropped seven apiece, and 6-foot-6 junior Ricky Radtke scored six points.
Radtke was the lone US starter with a height advantage in his matchup, and he backboned the Preppers’ defensive efforts in limiting Harvey’s difference-makers, McDonnell said.
Extending its win streak to six, University was scheduled to play district No. 1-seed Mentor (17-6) in semifinals action on Wednesday.
The winner will contend for a title against either No. 2-seed Cleveland Heights or No. 3-seed Brush at 7 p.m. Saturday in Euclid.
Gilmour flushes Royals’ season
The Gilmour Academy cagers had no trouble defending their home court during a 60-49 victory against No. 5-seed Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in Division II district quarterfinals action on Friday night in Gates Mills.
Owning the No. 4 seed in the 13-team Stow District, the Lancers (16-8) were propelled by 6-foot-3 senior Connor O’Toole’s game-high 16 points and 11 assists.
Gilmour Academy’s triumph comes on the heels of a two-versus-seven-seed upset loss against Aurora, 89-84, in last year’s district semifinals.
“We had a tough loss to end our season in the same game a year ago,” Gilmour second-year head coach Dan DeCrane said. “I just think this group has really grown together, they play well with each other, we have some multi-year starters out there, and, win or lose, that was the last game our seniors were ever going to play in that gym.
“I just thought we had a lot of pride and played with a purpose and played inspired basketball.”
With the CVCA Royals (17-7) averaging 48.5 points per game in their patient Princeton offense this season, Gilmour’s goal was to try and increase possessions to take advance of its transition game by trying to speed the Royals up in the half court.
CVCA weathered the storm early, DeCrane said, but back-to-back 3-pointers by O’Toole in the final two minutes of the half helped the Lancers grow their lead, 29-21, at intermission.
“I think that’s Connor O’Toole’s third double-double in the past three weeks,” DeCrane said. “He’s played really well lately. He hit Ben DeMell for a big three in the third quarter, because they hit the first five points to cut it to three, and then Ben hit a corner three from Connor’s skip pass that pushed the lead back to two possessions.
“But Connor did a lot of work in transition.”
Six-foot-five junior DeMell finished with nine points, including two treys and a roll to the basket for an and-one, while 6-foot-2 senior Ian Miller scored 11 points and 6-foot-4 sophomore Ryan Mueller came off the bench to also score nine points for the Lancers.
While O’Toole was dishing out assists left and right, Miller and Mueller were the beneficiaries of some gift-wrapped layups at the rim.
“And our freshman, Brandon Rose, had a great third quarter, where he hit a three in the half court, we got a stop, and then he attacked their best player on a quick-hitting set for a lay-up,” DeCrane said. “The momentum just swung with our lead going from seven to 12 just like that, and he was a big catalyst in that mini run.”
Gilmour owned a 45-33 lead after three quarters, allowing the Lancers to spread out CVCA’s defense and hit enough free throws down the stretch for the 11-point win.
Also in the scoring column, Rose finished with seven points, while 6-foot-1 junior Andre Rodgers and 6-foot-5 senior Garrett Olsen added four points apiece.
With the triumph, Gilmour was scheduled to play district favorite and state No. 2-ranked St. Vincent-St. Mary (19-4) in the semifinals on Wednesday.
The winner will play either No. 2-seed Revere or No. 3-seed Streetsboro for the district title at 6 p.m. Saturday at Stow-Munroe Falls.
West G cagers delete Edgewood
Usually the last seed in a district basketball tournament takes an embarrassing loss in the first round of the playoffs.
But No. 13-seed Edgewood (7-16) came away with a 95-94 overtime upset of No. 4-seed Villa Angela-St. Joseph (8-14) during a Division II Ashtabula District play-in game on Feb. 25.
That meant the No. 5-seed West Geauga boys (17-7) were awarded one more home game during a district quarterfinal clash against Edgewood on Friday at the Wolverines’ home floor in Chester.
Behind a record-breaking night from 6-foot-7 junior Josh Irwin, West Geauga treated their fans to a 61-51 victory.
Irwin finished with 18 points, including two treys, 14 boards and seven assists, becoming his program’s all-time scoring leader with 1,287 points, eclipsing 1988 graduate Andy Suttell’s program mark. Suttell led the Wolverines to a Division II state runner-up finish with a game-high 23 points in the title game his senior year.
Irwin also owns his program record with 540 points in a season.
After a 14-14 first quarter against Edgewood, West Geauga took control with a 30-22 lead at halftime and a 46-32 lead after the third quarter.
While Irwin had a record night, 6-foot-2 senior Peyton Bissler led the Wolverines with 23 points, while 5-foot-10 senior Aidan Pitcock had five, 6-foot junior Anthony Formichelli scored three and 6-foot-6 junior Cameron Rogal chipped in two.
Edgewood’s offense was led by senior Ethan Cobert’s 23 points and senior Alec Katon’s 17 points.
It was West Geauga’s second victory against Edgewood this season, also defeating the Warriors, 63-52, in January.
With the win, West Geauga was scheduled to play district No. 1-seed and state No. 5-ranked Lutheran East (18-3) in the semifinals on Wednesday.
The winner will advance to take on either No. 2-seed Lake Catholic or No. 3-seed Glenville for the district title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lakeside High School in Ashtabula County.