STERLING – When the Newman Comets ratcheted up the defense a few notches, the Erie Cardinals had no answer.
Newman forced 23 Erie turnovers Saturday night, turning 13 steals into 14 points in a 62-39 Three Rivers victory over the visiting Cardinals.
"When they stepped up the pressure, we got flustered and didn't execute," Erie senior Jacob Johnston said. "It was like we were playing hot potato; nobody wanted the ball, so we were throwing up quick shots or making long skip passes that they would steal and turn into layups."
The second quarter made all the difference for the Comets (18-4, 9-1). They switched back and forth between an aggressive man-to-man and their standard 1-3-1 run-and-jump zone, which kept Erie (14-11, 6-5) off-balance.
The Cardinals led 12-11 after the first quarter and 17-15 when Johnston (13 points, 4 rebounds) hit three free throws after being fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 6:11 to go before halftime.
But from then on out, it was all Newman. A.J. Sharp (12 points, 4 assists) nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing, then picked off an Erie pass and hit the layup at the other end to kick-start a 22-0 run over the final 6 minutes before the break.
"We got a lot of easy looks in transition, and that's when we start to really think, 'Hey, we got this thing,'" Sharp said. "Once we get a few of those, we run our offense with so much more confidence. We shared the ball, found the open shooters, and knocked those good shots down."
The Comets were 11-for-12 from the floor in the second quarter. Noah McCarty came off the bench to score all 11 of his points in the period, thanks to some strong post position and nice feeds from his teammates. Sharp added seven points, and Newman assisted on all but three baskets … and those three were runout layups.
Even more impressive was the fact that the run started when second-leading scorer and top rebounder Kyle Moore went to the bench with two early fouls.
"We really started clicking as a team," said McCarty, who also blocked four shots, "and us reserves wanted to step in, step up and give the team a bigger advantage on the scoreboard."
"We're really deep this year, and the bench gives us a lot of energy," Sharp added. "Knowing we have those guys behind us, we're really comfortable as starters they're going to get the job done for us when the starters need a blow."
After Newman turned the 17-15 deficit into a 37-17 halftime advantage, the Comets relied on their defense to keep the margin. Micah Trancoso (6 points, 3 steals), Lucas Terveer (2 points, 3 assists) and Luke LeMay (2 points, 2 assists) combined to put the clamps on Johnston, who missed practice all week and was playing with a sore back.
With their leading scorer unable to get loose, the Cardinals couldn't mount any kind of run. Erie never scored more than four consecutive points in the second half, and could get no closer than 13 (44-31) the rest of the way.
"Our defense definitely made the difference for us again tonight," McCarty said. "It sparked that big run in the second quarter, then our guards did a great job of locking down on Johnston to help us shut them down in the second half."
Newman shot 51 percent from the field for the game (26-for-51), handed out 16 assists, and turned the ball over just nine times, outscoring Erie 14-0 in points off turnovers. Moore finished with nine points, five rebounds and two steals, while Nate Terveer and Nic Miller each scored six points; Terveer had three assists and three steals, and Miller dished a pair of assists. The Comet bench outscored the Cardinal reserves 27-4.
In addition to their 23 turnovers, Erie hit just 14 of their 41 shots (34 percent). Jordan Chandler had 11 points and two assists, Rhett Stover had six points and five rebounds, and Connor Saad chipped in five points and four boards.
"I was disappointed that we didn't play at Newman's level," Erie coach Ryan Winckler said. "They were very aggressive defensively, and after we dictated the tempo and played our game in the first quarter, we just couldn't handle their pressure when they started to run and jump at us. Tonight was a step backward for us, and we have to get better from this."
Newman 62, Erie 39
Star of the game: A.J. Sharp, Newman, 12 points, 4 assists
Key performers: Noah McCarty, Newman, 11 points, 4 blocks; Kyle Moore, Newman, 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals; Nate Terveer, Newman, 6 points, 3 assists, 3 steals; Jacob Johnston, Erie, 13 points, 4 rebounds; Jordan Chandler, Erie, 11 points, 2 assists
Up next: Newman at Fulton, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; Erie at Bureau Valley, 7:30 p.m. Saturday