STERLING – Newman had Bureau Valley backed against a wall midway through their game Tuesday night.
The Storm responded, however, and took sole possession of the Three Rivers North lead with a 70-60 victory over the Comets.
Newman (17-2, 5-1) started off rolling, and a 3-pointer by senior A.J. Sharp gave them a 6-2 lead a mere 2 minutes into the game. Foul trouble became a burden for the Comets, as senior Nate Terveer and sophomore Noah McCarty both picked up two fouls midway through the first.
"We were undisciplined to start the game and got into trouble," Newman coach Ray Sharp said. "That happened more in the first half than it did in the second half. But it did keep our guys on the bench, and that hurt us."
Despite the foul trouble, Newman started the second quarter with a 14-12 lead.
Tempo was key in the second quarter, as it picked up and utilized athleticism for players on both teams.
Two key players on both sides who took advantage were juniors Tommy Johnston of the Storm (14-7, 6-0) and Nolan McGinn of the Comets.
McGinn got things started, as he took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast to help his team build up a 20-15 lead with a minute gone in the second. Johnston responded with two similar long-court drives to bring BV right back into it. The guard scored eight of his 16 points in the quarter.
"I had a few open lanes, so I took them," Johnston said, "and everyone else did the right thing to find me in them."
Unfortunately for the Storm, McGinn and company had the last laugh of the half. The forward added a pair of baskets with under 2˝ minutes left in the half, which gave the Comets a 30-25 lead heading into the locker room.
"He is very athletic," coach Sharp said. "They were kind of pushing it up, and the man coverage on him was tight. He can go to the basket when people do that, and be aggressive offensively."
Newman came out of halftime and doubled its lead in the blink of an eye.
A.J. Sharp knocked down a long 3-pointer in the Comets' first possession. This was followed up by senior Micah Trancoso forcing a steal a mere 15 seconds later. He took this and converted it into an and-one layup, to extend the lead to 36-25.
Rather than keel over, Bureau Valley began its comeback, and junior Parker Neuhalfen came up big.
Neuhalfen simmered down his team by answering the Trancoso layup with a jump shot. This was followed by another Storm basket from Blake Balensiefen, and helped set up the complete turnaround.
Neuhalfen hit back-to-back 3s more than a minute apart. His second 3 was followed up by another longball from senior Ryan Young. This 9-0 run from the Storm gave them their first lead since the first quarter at 40-38 with 2 minutes left.
"I just got open shots," Neuhalfen said, "and luckily they went in. This gym hasn't been nice to me over the years, but I think I finally broke through. They came out and hit us hard in the third quarter, but it shows how we can respond. Hopefully we can keep it up."
The Storm took a 46-42 lead heading into the fourth.
A battle between McCarty and Neuhalfen consumed the first 2 minutes of the final frame. For four possessions in a row, the two exchanged their own razzle-dazzle baskets on respective ends.
Neuhalfen got the last laugh, and capped off the back-and-forth with a layup to preserve his team's 53-46 lead.
A basket wasn't scored for the next 2 minutes, until Young hit another 3-pointer as an early attempted dagger with 4 minutes left.
However, Sharp answered the bell for the Comets, as he hit back-to-back 3s to bring his team within four with 3 minutes to play.
Like much of the second half, the Storm found an answer as Neuhalfen absorbed contact and finished a layup. He converted the three-point play to give his team a 60-52 lead with 2˝ minutes remaining.
As Newman continued to look for 3-pointers to fall, Johnston was beneath the basket grabbing the misses. This helped him secure a game-high 14 rebounds when his team needed it.
"Tommy's a captain," Storm coach Jason Marquis said, "and he gets a lot of blame when we don't play well, along with Parker and Ryan. But he deserves a lot of credit when we do play well.
"Obviously, individually we look at Tommy to do a lot of things for us. It was a big-time game and Tom is a big-time player. I'm proud for him that he had the opportunity to step up and do that. It meant a lot to our group."
A valiant effort was made by the Comets, but they came up short as Bureau Valley continued to make free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
"We gave up 45 points in the second half," coach Sharp said. "That's just a ton of points. We couldn't get it done defensively in the second half. We couldn't get a stop."
Star of the game: Tommy Johnston, BV, 16 points, 14 rebounds
Key performers: Parker Neuhalfen, BV, 23 points, 5 rebounds; A.J. Sharp, Newman 19 points
Up next: Amboy at Bureau Valley, Riverdale at Newman, both 7:30 Friday