MORRISON – In an offensive-minded game, the West Carroll Thunder almost completed a come-from-behind upset victory.
The Newman Comets stood their ground and fended them off to capture a 77-62 regional semifinal victory.
A 3-point shooting contest broke out in the opening minutes, as the teams combined for five baskets from behind the arc.
"Our defense was terrible, mostly throughout the game," Newman senior A.J. Sharp said. "But you have to give it to them, they came down and hit shots, and when we needed to make them, we did. When we started to stretch it out, our defense picked up."
"I think it was a testament to the kids," West Carroll coach Kyle Tutt said. "We talked all year about dealing with a new coach – I can be difficult – and how we just had to continue to fight. We got down early, which is a trend we've had all year, but we continued to fight all year."
With the scored knotted up at 13 halfway through the first, Newman (26-2) picked up the pace and utilized its height advantage to bust the game open. Noah McCarty, a 6-foot, 7-inch sophomore, went a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, and completed a three-point play to close out the quarter for the Comets. Newman led 30-18 after one quarter.
The Thunder (5-19) struggled to get anything going offensively. A very efficient Comet offense only coughed up four turnovers in the first half, and shot 55 percent from the field. A pair of deep 3-pointers from Sharp were followed up by a pair of McCarty free throws to give them the largest lead at the time at 45-23.
"We stopped worrying about the offensive end and focused on the defensive end," Shar said. "As a team, we played great team defense in that second quarter."
The Thunder dug deep after half and started winning more battles.
"When we picked up our defense, I think we're a pretty tough team," Tutt said. "We took them to the wire, and we'd like to have it the other way, but they're an excellent team and have a lot of talent. They're going to go far this year, and it's a great testament to our kids who continued to work hard and compete with them."
"We didn't contest the shot very well," Newman coach Ray Sharp said. "You have to give them credit. They came out and let it fly, and played like they had nothing to lose. They weren't afraid of anything, and attacked."
With just over 5 minutes to play, West Carroll senior Branden Sturtevant got a putback to pull the Thunder within six points. On the next Newman possession, McCarty tried a swift post move. He met junior Jordan Bracero, who waited and took a charge.
This gave McCarty his fourth foul. With the momentum on their side, and a key Newman player on the bench in foul trouble, the Thunder couldn't get a shot to drop.
"It was just believing," Tutt said. "It's been something that we've struggled with. Believing in ourselves, and believing what we can do. It doesn't matter how good the other team is, and I think we went and believed."
Multiple possessions came up empty, even after second- and third-chance opportunities. A.J. Sharp then quieted West Carroll even more, as he spun around his defender and finished at the rim to steady the ship. He added another pair of baskets en route to Newman blowing the game open for the final time.
"We'll get Morrison or Fulton on Friday," said Ray Sharp. "Both of them pose different dangers to us.
"From a conference standpoint, my biggest fear is our human nature. We've beat them both twice, and that doesn't get you the third win – it probably makes it harder. It's hard to beat a team three times, and no matter what, we'll be playing them a third time. West Carroll had a game last night, and that helped them to prepare them from an intensity standpoint."
Star of the game: A.J. Sharp, Newman, 27 points.
Key performers: Trevor Jones, West Carroll 14 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks. Brandon Sturtevant, West Carroll, 12 points, 7 rebounds.