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Spartans blow by Demons

Solon closes out regular season with wins Substate semifinal Feb. 25

SOLON– Solon’s boys are back to their winning ways, just in time for the postseason.
The Spartan basketball team finished its regular season with a three-game win streak, edging Center Point-Urbana (CPU) on the road and then racing out of the gates against the Washington Demons at home.
Solon fended off the Stormin’ Pointers, 60-54, in Center Point Feb. 16, then cruised to a 62-38 victory over the Demons Feb. 18 in Solon.
Washington came into the game with a 14-5 record and its own three consecutive wins, including over Clear Creek Amana.
But the Spartans came out on fire in the first quarter, fueled by two three-pointers from senior David Bluder and two driving baskets by senior Carson Shive. Solon jumped out to a 12-1 lead and never looked back.
The Demons would trim the lead to single-digits, but a shot by junior Kinnick Pusteoska down low and a breakaway hoop by senior Ben Cusick made the lead 12-6 at the end of one period.
Cusick’s three-pointer was followed by a traditional three-point play by Pusteoska to open the second quarter. Cusick sank another two points and Solon held a 26-6 advantage.
“Ben Cusick had his second double-double of the season with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists,” reported Solon Head Coach Jared Galpin. “Will (Noonan) did a great job of moving the basketball.”
Cusick led a group of five starters who were all at or near double-digits in scoring. He was 7-9 from the field and 2-2 at the line, with two steals and a blocked shot. Pusteoska added 12 on 5-6 shooting from the field and 2-3 from the stripe, along with five rebounds. Shive hit 4-6 shots, 2-3 free throw attempts, and finished with 11 points and four assists. Bluder contributed nine points, while Noonan added eight, to go along with a team-high eight assists.
The Spartans had 20 assists on 24 made baskets.
“Washington is a good offensive team,” Galpin said. “They have multiple guys that can score and they look to put pressure on you in the full court. We had a lot of respect for them coming into the game. The guys were locked in defensively and executed well on offense. We got stops and good looks on the offensive end of the floor.”
Solon shot 41.4 percent from the field.
The team built a 36-12 halftime advantage and maintained it through the rest of the game, despite a flurry of Washington three-pointers in the third quarter.
The Spartans had more of a battle on their hands on the road earlier in the week.
CPU came in with a losing record, but had dropped close games to Beckman, Marion and Mount Vernon and was hosting Solon for Senior Night.
“It was a close game,” Galpin said. “We knew that it was going to be a challenging game. They are a good defensive team and have guys that can score. It was Senior Night there, so we knew we were going to get their best game.”
The Spartans nudged ahead 16-14 at the end of the first period and extended the margin to eight, 36-28, at halftime.
But CPU came stormin’ back in the third quarter, clamping down on the Spartans and pulling within three points heading into the final eight minutes.
“We shot well from the free throw line, hitting big free throws to extend the lead at the end,” Galpin noted. “Ben Cusick had a big game and played a lot of minutes. He was strong offensively and defensively.”
Cusick finished with a game-high 19 points on 8-10 shooting. Noonan and Bluder added 14 points each, with each a perfect 4-4 from the line.
Solon connected with 80 percent of its free throws (12-15) and shot an even 50 percent from the field (22-44).
The team had 17 assists, led by Noonan (six) and Shive (five). Noonan added three steals. The Spartans forced CPU into 19 turnovers and held a 22-18 advantage on the boards, led by Bluder with five.
Solon entered the Class 3A playoffs Monday Feb. 22, hosting the South Tama Trojans, with the winner advancing to the Substate 4 semifinal, also in Solon, Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m.
“I am happy with how the team responded after the Mount Vernon loss,” Galpin said. “They challenged each other and we have had our best practices of the year since.”