Mentor’s Greater Cleveland Contest with visiting Solon on Dec. 16 didn’t play out the way the Cardinals’ games, particularly when they’re at home, usually do.
Mentor struggled from 3-point range (4 of 17), and struggled with the Comets’ pressure, turning the ball over a whopping 22 times.
Still, the Cardinals led for nearly the entire 32 minutes and overcame a shaky couple of quarters to prevail, 77-68.
Mentor was able to offset the areas in which it struggled by shooting 60% from the field (33 of 55), including a blistering 76% on two-point shots (29 of 38).
The Cardinals also held a significant edge on the boards, dominating the rebounding category by a 31-15 count, 11 of those on the offensive end.
Six-foot-six junior Ian Ioppolo paced Mentor with 26 points and nine rebounds. Six-foot-3 junior Matthew Biddell backed him up with 19 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
“I thought we finished really well in the paint,” Ioppolo said. “We knew they were going to press us. We still turned the ball over a lot, but I thought getting the lead early was really important, a big tone-setter.”
Mentor (4-1, 1-1 GCC) fell behind for the only time early on, 5-3. But a 12-0 run keyed by two Tanner Toot 3s and back-to-back buckets around a steal by Biddell gave the Cardinals a 15-5 lead, and they pushed it out to 22-9 before Rayquan Thompson hit a 3 before the end of the quarter for Solon.
Solon (3-3, 1-2 GCC) began to effectively press the Cardinals into turnovers in the second quarter, connected on some outside shots, and Thompson hit a few jumpers and layups and got to the line as the Comets cut the deficit to 38-34 going into halftime.
But Mentor opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run, pulled down 11 rebounds in that quarter alone, and scored on the break after turnovers or rebounds and inside to keep the Comets at arm’s length.
The Cardinals’ lead reached a peak at 63-47 in the fourth on an Ioppolo bucket, but Solon induced 11 turnovers in the final frame. The Comets crept within nine points on four occasions in the final minutes, but that’s as close as they would get.
Thompson, Solon’s lone returning starter, was outstanding with a game-high 33 points, four assists and four steals. Noah Morgan added 14 points for the Comets, who shot at a 41% clip from the field (24 of 58), but were 14 of 16 from the foul line, led by Thompson’s 12 for 13 showing.
Sophomore Kobe Frasure-Azzano had 12 points and nine rebounds for Mentor. Senior Ryan Ioppolo added 11 points and three assists, while Toot, a junior, converted three 3s for nine points.
“We knew that the key was beating the press and getting great shots,” Mentor coach Bob Krizancic said. “If we didn’t turn it over as many times, we would have had a bigger lead. (Solon is) quick and athletic, and they want to run the floor. We did what we had to do, and that was it.
“I’m not happy with all the turnovers, but I think once we broke (the press) we got great high-percentage shots. We shot a phenomenal percentage from two and in the paint, we really worked hard this week on getting it to one foot.”
Mentor will travel to Massillon on Dec. 17 to play Louisville, coming off losing the turnover battle to Solon, 22-15. Both Krizancic and Ioppolo said that can’t happen again.
“We definitely have to win the turnover battle,” Krizancic said regarding the matchup with the Leopards. “We have to be smart with shot selection and defending. We’ve been hurt on giving up offensive boards. We’re just trying to shore up all our weaknesses and be strong in every area.”