Harding moving on

WARREN – There’s an on-going debate concerning the decision by the Ohio High School Athletic Association to have higher seeded teams host first- and second-round basketball playoff games.

You probably won’t get many disagreements on the move from teams that have homecourt advantage this week, including the Warren G. Harding Raiders. Playing at home Wednesday in a 57-40 win over the Solon Comets in a Division I sectional semifinal sure as heck beat driving 65 miles to Euclid, the site of next week’s district tournament.

“I felt like we were more comfortable out there on our home floor,” Harding senior guard Tommy Perry said.

It sure looked that way as the Raiders (13-10) scored the first seven points and were never seriously challenged. Four players scored in doubles figures, while a cohesive zone defense limited the Comets (7-16) to a two-point second quarter and a 10-point fourth period.

“It was kind of a grind-it-out type of game,” Raiders coach Andy Vlajkovich said. “It didn’t really have a flow or a rhythm, but the kids were tough and they made plays at the right time.

“I give Solon’s coaching staff a lot of credit. They had us pretty well scouted. The same offensive stuff that works frequently didn’t. It got a little uglier than I would have liked, but I was proud of our guys.”

Perry came off the bench to add a needed outside presence, making three 3-point shots in the second half. The Raiders aren’t a good 3-point shooting team, but they were 6 of 13 on Wednesday.

Harding likes to work the ball inside, especially to 6-foot-8 freshman Derek Culver. Having the outside threats of Perry and point guard Gabe Simpson complements the inside game.

“I feel that they free me up to shoot the ball while they’re driving,” Perry said.

Culver had a double-double with a game-high 13 points and 10 rebounds. Shondell Jackson and Simpson both finished with 10 points.

None of the Comets were able to score in double figures. They finished the first quarter with a bit of a run to cut the Raiders’ lead to 14-11, but Harding opened a 27-13 lead at halftime.

The Raiders took a 41-30 advantage into the final quarter. The Comets inched as close as nine points on three occasions, but a streak of seven unanswered points pushed Harding’s lead to a comfortable 52-36.

Vlajkovich is a believer in man-to-man defense, but he’s had to buy into zone principles this season.

“We have a positive and a negative,” Vlajkovich said. “We are long, especially with Derek, Shakem (Johnson) and Shondell on that back line. But then we’re also young, and we don’t always have good matchups for a smaller team. It’s hard for the bigs to guard a smaller team.

“A lot of the things we’ve been preaching in man-to-man – communication, stance and active hands – we actually do better out of the zone than we do in the man-to-man. I’m not a big zone guy, but I am now.”

The Raiders have been more consistent in recent games, which bodes well for a sectional final Saturday at 4 p.m. at Cleveland Glenville.

“I think they like playing with each other,” Vlajkovich said.