SOLON (Ohio) – The high school basketball season kicked off with a bang Tuesday night at Solon High School when future Ohio State center Dallas Lauderdale's Solon Comets squared off against another nationally ranked center, 7-0 foot junior Kenny Frease and the Massillon Perry Panthers.
A sold out Solon gymnasium watched as the two highly touted centers went at it all night under the basket, battling for rebounds and each player providing the fans tremendous excitement with a number of monster dunks. However, Lauderdale got the best of Frease throughout the game and it was the Ohio State-bound senior who hit two free throws with 36 seconds to go that put the Comets up 58-57, and a lead they never relinquished to prevail in a great matchup between two Division I state-ranked teams.
With Solon leading 48-38 at the end of the third quarter, Massillon Perry surged back quickly and cut the Solon lead to just five capped by Frease, who made a nice drop-step move under the basket that shook Lauderdale to lay it in with two minutes to play, making it 53-48 with Solon clutching to their lead. A costly turnover by Solon allowed Perry senior Greg Fite to make the score 53-50 on a driving lay-up.
With just over a minute to play Perry head coach Rob Toth had his team foul Lauderdale, to put him at the line. The All-State center split a pair of free throws to put his team up by four, but the Panthers would not back down. Although Frease, who finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks had fouled out earlier in the fourth quarter, the Panthers 6-3 junior Trey Thomas hit a three pointer with one minute remaining in the game to close Solon's lead to just 54-53.
As the teams traded two baskets with under a minute to play, Solon fouled Panthers senior Ryan Kelly putting him at the line for two free throws and a chance for the lead. Kelly sank both free throws giving Perry a 57-56 lead with just 40 seconds to play. The Solon crowd grew silent as the Perry student section made plenty of noise; about to knock off one of the top team's in the state.
Once again Lauderdale, who finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks, was fouled and sent to the free throw stripe, where he was ready to shoot a pair of free throws. After sinking the first one, the gymnasium erupted as the game was tied at 57-57. The future Buckeye sank his next free throw putting Solon up 58-57. A late three-point attempt by senior John Marshall did not fall and Solon came out with the victory to push their record to 1-0 on the season.
Solon appeared to dominate throughout the entire game beyond the run that the Panthers made on the Comets at the end of the fourth quarter. For much of the evening, Lauderdale appeared to have an edge on Frease in his quickness to the ball, scoring, rebounding, and overall defensive play.
Lauderdale was helped all night by senior guards Nne Lewis and Anthony Burns who consistently hit their shots and combined for 25 points on the night. First-year starter, sophomore Reggie Keely was a surprising force for the Comets all night blocking shots by Frease and Thomas early on to help Lauderdale down low.
Excellent is the only word to describe the play of Lauderdale Tuesday night, Panthers' coach Toth said.
"The kid is a very talented hard working player, he is excellent defensively, and he has improved his game," he added. "Offensively he has gotten a lot better, you can just see that he has added to his arsenal in the offensive part of his game, he has really come a long way.
"For Dallas to come back and make those free throws after missing a few early on, which just shows what kind of great player he is," Toth said. "We made them try and beat us at the free throw line, and he stepped up and did that for Solon tonight."
Perry junior Frease, who is being recruited by Xavier, Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan, had very nice things to say about Lauderdale after the two had battled it out all night long.
"He is a great ball player. He can jump real well and he is a great rebounder," Frease said. "That is all a part of his game and that is what makes him a good player."
Although Frease thought Lauderdale played well, he still thought his team was just as good as Solon.
"If our teams played ten times they would not beat us ten times," Frease explained. "Our guards are about the same and me and Dallas were going at it down-low so I think that we were two pretty evenly matched teams.
This was a great game for both teams, and the thing that made it so great was that there were a lot of good players on the floor not just Lauderdale and Frease, Solon's Head Coach Todd Van Reeth said.
"We have four new starters on the floor, so this is still kind of new for us, but the team really rallied around Dallas at the end of the game to help us get the victory tonight."
There are still things to work on as the season goes on, Lauderdale said.
"Both the team and myself still have things that we need to work on," Lauderdale explained. "I still need to work on everything about my game, offensively and defensively.
"Specifically my perimeter game," he added. "I only hit one three-pointer, I was down low a lot tonight because of Kenny, but I definitely want to work on my perimeter game more."
According to Lauderdale, It felt great to play tonight knowing that the decision had been made to play at Ohio State.
"It feels like there is a monkey off of my back now that I made my decision to play at OSU," he explained. "Now I can focus on my senior year and just have fun out there. Although our main goal is to win the state championship, it feels good now not having to worry about any kind of decision, and that I can just go out there and have fun when I play."
-Solon 6-7 sophomore power forward Reggie Keely finished with a game-high five blocks and surly looks like the next big man in waiting for Solon High School.
-The new starters for Solon are senior guards Anthony Burns, Arsenio Brown, senior transfer from St. Edward Nne Lewis, and Keely who is just a sophomore.
-After the game Massillon Perry Head Coach Rob Toth commented on his decision not to sit Frease when he had three fouls early in the third quarter, "We want Kenny to learn how to play when he is in foul trouble," he said. "That is an important aspect at the next level."
-In attendance at the Solon High School Gymnasium for the game were numerous college scouts, various fans and coaches from other schools: St. Edward senior Delvon Roe, Garfield Heights center and Cleveland State recruit Daitwan Eppinger, and Cleveland Indians PR Bobby DiBiasio.
-When asked why he chose Ohio State Lauderdale explained, "Well it came down to Ohio State and Syracuse and like I have said, my mom is my heart, and I wanted to stay close to my family while playing basketball in college."