STERLING – The Newman Comets matched up with the Aquin Bulldogs for the second time this season Saturday night. The result was similar as the Comets defeated the Bulldogs 70-63 to capture the KSB Newman Christmas Classic.
Right off the bat, Newman (12-0) came out swinging. Senior John Payan, who scored 33-points Friday night, hit back-to-back 3s to give the Comets an early 8-2 lead.
Aquin (10-3) junior Aiden Chang, who was the Tournament MVP, rallied for eight straight points to help the Bulldogs secure a 16-11 lead after the first quarter. Chang finished with 28 points.
"I thought we did a nice job of keeping our composure," Newman coach Ray Sharp said. "We started out pretty good, and then they went on a nice run and took the lead on us. After that I think we settled down. We were rushing and weren't executing our offense, but once we started executing it really helped us."
In the second quarter a balanced Newman attack brought the Comets back into the game.
In a 5-minute stretch in the middle of the quarter, senior A.J. Sharp and sophomore Noah McCarty combined to score 11 points.Payan also chipped in a pair of 3s to add to the Comets' cause.
WIth time winding down before halftime, Aquin dialed up a man-to-man press.
Sharp received the ball and proceeded to wave everyone so he could go one-on-one to bring the ball up.
At half court, he dribbled behind his back to get around one defender, just in time to see another Bulldog flying at him. Once again, a smooth behind the back dribble got him around that defender. Finally, a spin move to get around a third defender led him to find an open man in the corner.
Payan was the open man, who hit nothing but net on the 3. Payan finished with 21 points. He made seven of his nine 3-point attempts.
"That was just an awesome play all-around," said Payan. "A.J. made a couple of great moves to the bucket. They helped off me to stop him like they have all tournament. I just caught it and shot it. When the crowd exploded, it was really awesome to hear."
The shot extended the Comet lead to 33-26 heading into the half.
The Bulldogs once again showed fight. A jumper by Chang pulled Aquin within two at 42-40 with 3 minutes left in the third.
Newman answered with a basket from junior Trevor Bolin.
McCarty then made two backdoor cuts, and this resulted in a basket the first time, and a pair of made free throws the second time.
To close out the quarter, McCarty poked the ball from his man at half court, which resulted in a basket for Bolin as time expired, extending the lead to 52-44.
"That's all our guards," McCarty said. "Micah, Nate, A.J. were always trying to penetrate and then looking up to find me on the open cut. All the credit goes to them on that one. Aquin put on some runs that were hard to stop in spurts. We had to be a really strong team to comeback and play like we did after those spurts"
The dagger strike for Newman came with 2:30 left.
Using a stall offense, the Comets took off about 30 seconds as they clung to a 57-52 lead.
As they stalled, the Bulldogs lost sight of Newman's sharpshooter.
Payan shot another 3-pointer.
It found the bottom of the net for his sixth three of the game.
"It probably wasn't the best shot to be taken," said Payan. "But I caught it in rhythm, and I'm always told to shoot if I'm open. I had a lot of confidence and it felt like a heat check at the end."
Down the stretch, Sharp once again sealed the deal from the free throw line as the Bulldogs tried to foul their way back into the game. He went 7 of 8 from the free throw line in the fourth, as he finished with 17 points and put the game on ice for the Comets.
"When we shot the ball well outside," Ray Sharp said, "it makes it hard for them to double the inside with Noah.
"Noah is normally going to have an advantage, especially against them. They're going to have to double him, and that leaves people open on the outside. John's really been shooting it well. John's got the green light, if he catches and he's open, he's going to shoot. We'll go rebound, because he's knocking them down. Teams can't key in on one guy, and that's whats really important for us."
Star of the game: John Payan, Newman, 21 points, 7-9 from 3.
Key performers: AJ Sharp, Newman, 17 points, 7-8 from free throw in 4th. Aiden Chang, Aquin 28 points. Noach McCarty, Newman, 14 points, 11 rebounds.