FORRESTON – Newman completed its sweep of revenge games, defeating Winnebago 86-80 Friday night in the Forreston Holiday Tournament championship game.
The Comets (9-0) have now avenged all three losses to teams last season that are on their schedule this season.
They say that free throws win games, and Newman proved that statement to be true. The Comets went 26-for-37 from the line overall, and were 18-for-21 in the final quarter.
“I thought we were very composed down the stretch,” Newman coach Ray Sharp said. “We took care of the ball. We knew the situation and the score, and we did a nice job of getting to the free-throw line and knocking those down.”
Senior point guard A.J. Sharp led the Comets in both free throw attempts and makes. He went 13-for-18 overall, and 9-for-11 in the last quarter en route to a 33-point performance.
Not only did he make big shots from the line in crunch time, Sharp also drove the Comet offense in the first half. Sharp answered Winnebago 3-pointers multiple times with four 3s of his own in the first half, when he scored 17 points.
Fellow senior John Payan chipped in a pair of 3s for Newman, which trailed the Indians 40-37 heading into the half.
“It was a lot of Noah [McCarty] and the other guys pushing the ball up,” A.J. Sharp said. “This forced [Winnebago] to drop back a lot, and the shots from the 3-point arc were a lot easier, because of the effort they put into it.”
The Comets ran into foul trouble, as key defenders McCarty and Nate Terveer both had to miss playing time because of fouls. Their replacements, juniors Trevor Bolin and Jacob Barnes, accepted this challenge and made the most of it.
“I like to play physical. It’s the way I’m used to playing,” Terveer said. “They have been calling it closer this year, so it’s hard for me to stay out of foul trouble.
“But I usually guard their best player, and we work as a team to stop them.”
While Barnes pulled down crucial rebounds, Bolin helped the Comet defense not miss a beat.
However, Bolin’s play of the night came on the offensive end.
With time winding down in the third quarter, senior Micah Trancoso shot a deep 3 that ricocheted hard to the left off the rim. As the ball bounced into the out-of-bounds abyss, Bolin leaped from 10 feet out, grabbed the ball in mid-air, and got a shot off from behind the backboard.
The buzzer sounded as the ball began its descent, where it found the bottom of the net, giving Newman a 61-60 lead going into the fourth. More importantly, it gave the Comets all the momentum.
Both teams were in the bonus to start the final quarter, which proved to be crucial.
“We got a lot of good minutes out of a lot of people tonight,” said Ray Sharp. “Jake Barnes did great coming out of football. He hasn’t played that much. He’s finally getting more time, and had really good minutes for us tonight.”
It was then Terveer’s turn to be a difference-maker.
After a putback from Barnes gave Newman a 65-62 lead with 7 minutes left, the offense transitioned into a stall-type offense to waste time off the clock.
Barnes received a pass in the short corner. Terveer recognized that his defender had fallen asleep and made a backdoor cut, where Barnes found him for the wide-open layup to extend the lead to 67-62 with 5:56 remaining.
Winnebago responded with a three from Dalton Menke. A free throw by Terveer got one point back, but he missed the second.
A pair of baskets by Winnebago sophomore Brandon Suggs tied things at 68 with 3:30 remaining.
After an exchange of free throws and baskets by both teams, the score was knotted at 71 with 1:40 remaining, with the ball in Newman’s possession.
Terveer got the ball at the top of the key and dribbled to the right side.
As his defender cut him off, Terveer spun to finish with the left hand in the middle of the lane, giving the Comets a lead they never gave up at 73-71.
As the Indians continued to foul, the Comets went a perfect 14-for-14 from the free-throw line for the remainder of the game. A.J. Sharp had four trips to the line, while Terveer, Barnes, and Payan all had one trip apiece in the final 1:15.
“I was really nervous,” said Payan, “but we needed those free throws. Coach Sharp always tells us to make nine or 10 in a row in practice to build up the muscle memory.”