STERLING – What's the best way to beat a team that has several strong perimeter shooters? Hit a few shots first, then play aggressive defense until they get frustrated.
The Newman Comets played that perfectly Friday night, coming out of the locker room hot in both halves of a 70-55 home victory over the Fulton Steamers. The win keeps the Comets one game ahead of Bureau Valley in the Three Rivers North standings.
"They hit us right from the jump, and never let up," Fulton coach R.J. Coffey said. "They got us early, and we had to fight back the whole way. You can't let a good team – let alone the No. 3-ranked team in the state – get comfortable like that."
With the Steamers (18-6, 7-3) looking to take Newman guard A.J. Sharp out of the equation, the other Comets stepped up. Nate Terveer and Micah Trancoso played lock-down defense, Noah McCarty and Nolan McGinn were strong inside, and John Payan knocked down his first three 3-point attempts to stake Newman (22-2, 10-1) to an early lead it would never relinquish.
The Comets hit their first three shots of the first quarter, then hit four in a row to start the second half. The result was an 8-0 lead before Fulton's third possession, then a game-high 23-point lead before the Steamers scored in the third quarter.
"It's really important for us to start fast like that, because we're a big momentum team," said Payan, who hit six of his nine shots and scored 16 points. "Last time we played Fulton, they came out and took it to us and made us come back on them. We wanted to make sure we hit lots of shots early on, get up on them and force them to work for everything."
With the Comets switching defenses between a tight man-to-man and their patented 1-3-1 zone, the Steamers couldn't get any rhythm going on offense. The open looks they did get from the perimeter were often hurried, and they struggled to get the ball into the paint consistently.
After Newman's 8-0 barrage to start, Fulton fought back to within 17-12 on Jason Osborn's bucket off a loose ball to as the first-period buzzer sounded. But he missed the and-one free throw, and Payan opened the second with a 3 to kick-start an 18-9 run to build a 35-21 lead in the final 2½ minutes of the first half.
The Comets' biggest lead was 46-23 less than 3 minutes into the third quarter, and Fulton didn't get closer than 17 until the final margin.
"We knew they had some good shooters, and they came out more aggressive than we did," Fulton guard Zach Barber said. "They got good looks, and they knocked their shots down and built a big lead. We couldn't get our shots to fall at the start, then by the time we picked it up in the second half and started attacking the basket, it was too late."
Newman assisted on its first nine field goals, finished with 16 assists on 27 baskets, and had 10 different players either score a basket, grab a rebound or nab a steal. The Comets had 14 steals on 19 Fulton turnovers, and outscored the Steamers 16-2 in fast-break points.
Terveer led the charge in every facet, finishing with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists, five steals and two blocked shots.
"We knew they had some hot shooters, so we wanted to step up on defense and make sure they didn't get too many open looks from outside," Terveer said. "We got off to a huge start, then we used our depth to make sure they couldn't get any runs going on us.
"Fulton's a good team – they just beat BV earlier this week – and we wanted to set a statement tonight that we're ready for the stretch run."
McCarty led the Comets with 17 points and eight rebounds. Sharp finished with nine points, six assists and three steals, and Trancoso chipped in seven points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. McGinn finished with four points and four boards, and Trevor Bolin had two points and two steals.
Barber led the Steamers with 18 points – including 16 after halftime – and he also dished three assists. Matt Dail and Kyle Huebner scored nine points apiece, with Dail grabbing seven rebounds. Jake Willging pulled down 10 rebounds to go with one basket, Osborn had six points and two steals, and Seth Sanderson added four points and four assists.
Newman 70, Fulton 55
Star of the game: Nate Terveer, Newman, 15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 assists, 2 blocks
Key performers: Noah McCarty, Newman, 17 points, 8 rebounds; John Payan, Newman, 16 points, 2 assists; Zach Barber, Fulton, 18 points, 3 assists; Matt Dail, Fulton, 9 points, 7 rebounds
Up next: Newman at Erie & Fulton at Amboy, both 7:30 p.m. Tuesday