SOLON, Ohio — Just be us.
That was the message Elyria coach Brett Larrick delivered to his team at halftime of Friday’s Greater Cleveland Conference game vs. Solon.
His team never led in the first half and they trailed by as much as 17 points.
But behind its defense, the Pioneers mounted a rally and led by three game-defining plays by Justin Koepp and a game-high 26 points from Antonio Blanton to stun the Comets, 76-73, in overtime to clinch a share of the GCC.
Mentor beat Medina, 77-60, to force a split of the conference title with Elyria.
“I told them, I said, ‘From Day 1, you were the best team in the conference. I wouldn’t trade this team for anything,’” Larrick said. “I told them before the game how proud I was. I don’t think I could be any more proud.”
Elyria (18-4, 11-3 GCC), ranked No. 11 in the cleveland.com Top 25, trailed by double digits early in the first quarter but cut the deficit down to just two in the final minute of regulation. That came after Koepp, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, chased down Solon’s David Gulley with a block. He turned that into a layup to make it a 64-62 game.
He tied the game at 66 with 3.2 seconds left off a feed from Josh Lotko. The basket tied the game for the first time since 0-0.
Here's the game-winner from Justin Koepp. @ElyriaAthletics #neovarsity pic.twitter.com/PUfy4GNq8w— Tim Bielik (@bielik_tim) February 25, 2017
“We’ve been down in some games before. But we know how to handle it. We know how to come back,” Koepp said. “We fought hard. We got back in the game. I knew we were right there. So if I had to make a play, I had to make a play to win the game.”
No. 12 Solon (15-7, 8-6) Solon took a 30-13 lead early in the second quarter behind red-hot shooting from the outside. Elyria slowly chipped away at the lead, and went on an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to get to within two points. The Pioneers held Solon to just eight points in the fourth as well, helping to send the game to overtime.
“Going to overtime, we just said, ‘It’s not over,’” Blanton said. “We just kept fighting and we knew once we got to overtime, it’s not over. We’ve been in this situation before. So we knew how to handle it.”
Lotko and Dezman Brown each added 13 points for Elyria.
Ryan Bergen had 18 points to lead Solon. The Comets had five players score in double figures, but did not make enough plays to stave off Elyria’s comeback.
“I don’t think our guys made mistakes. I just think Elyria made plays, and it’s a credit to them,” Solon coach Tony DeCesare said. “We had a four-point lead with 30 seconds left. We just had to get a stop. As I told the guys in the locker room, there were six or seven times we just needed that one stop and we weren’t able to get it.”
Late in the second quarter, Blanton scored his 1,000th career point. He became the ninth player in Elyria history to reach 1,000 points.
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