Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
December 5, 2019
Kenston 6-foot-3 junior Kyle Quinlan just knocked down his second 3-pointer for a 29-16 lead midway through the second quarter, and the Bomber cagers were well on their way during a season opener against Solon on Tuesday night in Bainbridge.
Despite only bringing back six guys from their varsity roster from last season’s 8-15 campaign, which included a 6-8 mark in the Western Reserve Conference, the Kenston boys were executing unselfish ball movement to break down Solon’s defense and find open shooters rather than forcing contested shots, as inexperienced teams do.
And Kenston was knocking them down early, with 6-foot-1 sophomore Andy Kooser also draining a pair of treys, as well as finding his way to the iron, and with 6-foot junior Ethan Thorne getting his rhythm for some midrange pull-ups in the second quarter.
Whatever second-year head coach Derrick DeJarnette worked on with his young Bombers in the offseason, after graduating four starters, they seemed to have bought in to the team aspect of the game.
Solon was in much of the same boat with a green varsity squad taking the court, but the visiting Comets ended the final 3:45 of the first half on a 9-2 run to trim their deficit, 31-25, and remain within reach at the break.
Solon’s lone returning starter, 6-foot junior guard Marcus Steele, scored nine of his game-high 23 points in the second quarter to help the Comets settle in and capture a 63-51 victory under sixth-year head coach Tony DeCesare.
“At our shoot-around this afternoon, we said, ‘How many of your guys have played in a varsity basketball game before?’” DeCesare said. “And there weren’t a lot of hands that went up. Marcus (Steele) obviously played a big role for us last year, and Chad Marks did too. But outside of that, this was new for all of our guys.
“So, we thought it might be ugly early, and it was. We turned it over. We missed layups. We missed defensive assignments. But once we made a couple of buckets at the end of the half, six (points) was a comfortable number for us to be down.”
Solon graduated four guys who started on the Comets’ 27-2 Division I state runner-up team two seasons ago, as well as the Comets’ 16-9 district runner-up campaign last season.
Somewhat in the shadows as a sophomore, Steele averaged seven points, two assists and three rebounds per game, while 5-foot-11 guard Chad Marks, now a senior, was a top reserve who was deadly from deep last year. Both Comets had 17-point game highs last season.
Against Kenston, Steele stopped the bleeding of that previously mentioned 13-point deficit with an and-one finish and then a bucket in transition off a steal and assist from 6-foot-4 sophomore Sam Marbury. Steele also hit a running shot at the halftime buzzer to provide some momentum heading into the locker room.
“I knew some of our new guys were going to be nervous coming in, so I just told them to play with hustle and just get the nerves out of their system,” Steele said. “(Kenston’s) lead got away from us a little bit in the first half. They put the varsity tempo on us, and we weren’t used to it, but I just told them to calm down, start moving the ball and we’re going to get back with it.”
In addition to his career-high 23 points on eight-of-13 shooting, Steele added eight boards, two assists and a steal to his game resume.
Joining Steele, Marks and Marbury with impact games for the Comets were 6-foot-3 senior Brandon Chambers, who transferred back to Solon from Twinsburg last season, and 6-foot-2 junior Jimmie Williams, who scored a baker’s dozen apiece. Chambers also had five boards and two steals, while Williams had four boards and two steals.
With those guys getting their feet under them, Solon allowed its offense to dictate its defense, which, in turn, dictated more offense during a 23-8 run in the Comets’ favor in the third quarter.
“Some of it was just doing a better job of setting our defense, and that happens when you make some shots,” DeCesare said. “We had a little bit better of a half-court focus, and then we did a good job of contesting some of those shots.
“Kenston runs a good offense; they set good screens; they get the ball to the right players, and those guys made plays in the first half. But I think Brandon Chambers did a really good job on (Kooser) in the second half, because (Kooser) really controlled the game offensively for them.”
Kooser finished with 14 points, three boards, four assists and a steal for the Bombers, while Quinlan had 16 points, eight boards, two assists and four blocks.
But Solon turned a six-point deficit into a nine-point lead, 48-39, in the third quarter, in large part due to Marks knocking down a pair of 3-pointers to help spread the Bombers’ defense and allow guys like Steele, Chambers and Williams drive to the lanes.
“I think we still have a good amount of shooters surrounding me, but, personally for myself, I just have to do a good job of getting my shots going early,” Marks said. “If I get a few to fall, I know they’ll keep going.
“But Marcus (Steele) can create for everybody. Brandon (Chambers), Dylan (Vauss), Jimmie (Williams) – they’re all creators. And Sam (Marbury) can shoot it. So, we just have to get everybody involved.”
Kenston cut its deficit, 48-45, to open the fourth quarter on a hesitation drive by sophomore Nick Cowoski, a feed from Quinlan to Thorne in transition and a pull-up by Thorne, who finished with six of his 12 points in crunch time.
But Solon answered on a 7-0 run with Williams hitting a triple and then getting a steal and assisting Steele in transition, and then Steele getting a steal of his own and going coast-to-coast with it for a 55-45 upper hand with 3:35 to play.
Steele, Williams, Chambers and 6-foot-2 junior Dylan Vauss then showcased some of their combination guard work with double backdoor passes to put the finishing touches on the 63-51 victory.
“Coach was just telling us not to gun it and don’t shoot contested shots,” Steele said of playing with a lead in the fourth quarter. “Just wait for wide-open layups or drive-and-kicks for an open three and just be patient on offense and settle in on defense.”
Overall, Solon shot 23-of-47 from the field, or 48.9 percent, while Kenston shot 20-of-47 from the field, or 42.6 percent.
Up next, Solon travels to take on Greater Cleveland Conference foe Shaker Heights at 7:30 p.m. Friday, while Kenston travels to play WRC foe Madison at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
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