SOLON – All the energy and determination Elyria played with over the first 3½ minutes Friday night at Solon dissipated quickly in Greater Cleveland Conference action.
But by the end of the first quarter, Solon (9-6 overall, 5-3 GCC) had pulled within two points and by the end of the game had won rather easily, 76-60.
The Pioneers (7-9, 1-7 GCC) roared out of the gate, scoring the first 10 points of the game and causing Comets coach Tony DeCesare to call time out to remind his team the game had started. Solon was 0-of-5 from the field with two turnovers at that point. Elyria’s Will Waddell had feasted inside, getting eight of the points for the Pioneers.
“Yeah, except they came back like they’re supposed to,” said Elyria coach Brett Larrick when asked about the fast start. “Really good start by our guys, lots of energy. We made them do what we wanted, contested shots outside, we rebounded and we attacked.”
So what happened?
“They switched to zone and we couldn’t get in the paint and attack,” Larrick said. “(Solon’s Mike) Bekelja attacked all night, got to the free throw line and got layups. We tried everybody and couldn’t stop him.”
Bekelja has been a thorn in the Pioneers’ side all through his three years as a varsity starter. He dropped 29 points on Elyria on Friday and has games of 26 points, 23, 20, 13 and 12 against Elyria. Friday, when he drove the lane, he usually finished. He was 13-of-23 from the floor.
“Once they made their run, we had no answer,” Larrick said. “Give them credit for the response and give Bekelja a lot of credit. He was the best player on the floor by far. He totally dominated the game.”
The outset was a complete reversal of what happened earlier in the year at Elyria. That night, Solon started the game on an 11-0 run only to have the Pioneers nearly bounce back before the Comets eked out a 76-72 win.
“We actually told our guys that during our first timeout,” DeCesare said. “We came out and we were up 11-0 and it was tied at the end of the first quarter. (Friday) we told them to settle into the game and start playing the way we’re capable of. I didn’t think we’d get it all back in one quarter but our guys really responded to what was a typical slow start for us.”
It was Bekelja who hit the first basket for Solon – a 3-pointer – one of nine the Comets made on the night. Waddell and Josiah Grantham put Elyria in front 14-5 with 3:22 to play. Waddell had 10 of the points and Grantham the other four, but Solon went on runs of seven and five points to close the deficit to 19-17 by the end of the first.
Waddell finished with a career-high 20 points. He also led the rebounding effort with 11. Grantham had nine points but the Pioneers’ two leading scorers – Caleb Rogers and MarSaun Robinson – were limited to 10 points combined. Rogers scored 27 against the Comets in Elyria and Robinson had 19.
Elyria still led 25-19 with 5:45 to play in the second quarter. Waddell scored four more points, but when Jahkai Owens drove the lane to make it 27-20 with 5:15 left, the Comets had seen enough.
Solon scored the next 10 points and outscored Elyria 17-3 over the next three minutes to take a 37-30 lead. The Comets led at halftime 39-35 and completely took control in the third quarter by outscoring the Pioneers 19-10 for a 58-45 lead.
Three Comets finished in double figures and one other (Chad Marks) was close with nine. Marcus Steele and Khalil Jones each scored 12. Solon was without two of its top players – seniors Trent Williams and David Marbury.
“We’ve been dealing with injuries all season,” said DeCesare, who led his team to the Division I state final a year ago. “I know a lot of teams do but this year has been especially hard. We had a game Wednesday night, but we had eight guys healthy, eight guys injured. We had a few of them come back (Friday), but one of them hasn’t practiced in three months. We’re hoping to get healthy when it matters in March.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Solon 76, Elyria 60
Solon (76): Mike Bekelja 13-2-29, Marcus Steele 5-1-12, Khalil Jones 5-1-12, Chad Marks 3-0-9, Nick Close 2-1-6, Patrick McQuaide 0-0-0, Jaelyn Etheridge 1-2-6, Nihal Goli 1-0-3, Noah Obert 0-0-0, Dylan Vauss 0-0-0. Totals 30-7-76.
Elyria (60): MarSaun Robinson 2-0-4, Caleb Rogers 2-0-6, Jahkai Owens 3-2-8 Josiah Grantham 4-0-9, Will Waddell 10-0-20, Aiden Carter 1-3-6, Izaiah Thomas 1-0-2, Nate Collins 2-0-5, Dezaron Shelton 0-0-0, Jesse Stevens 0-0-0. Totals 25-5-60.
Elyria 19 16 10 15 --60
Solon 17 22 19 18 --76
Three-point goals: Elyria 5-23 (Rogers 2, Grantham, Carter, Collins), Solon 9-25 (Marks 3, Bekelja, Steele, Jones, Close, Etheridge, Goli). Field goals: Elyria 25-66 (38 percent), Solon 30-59 (51 percent). Free throws: Elyria 5-6 (83 percent), Solon 7-8 (87.5 percent). Rebounds: Elyria 34 (Waddell 11), Solon 34 (Close 10). Turnovers: Elyria 11, Solon 12. Fouls: Elyria 14, Solon 14. Fouled Out: None.
Junior Varsity: Elyria 59-54.