MORRISON – Three was the magic number for Newman on Friday night, for a trio of reasons.
First, the Comets earned their third consecutive regional championship after a 67-54 victory against Fulton in the finals of the Morrison Regional.
Second, it completed a sweep of the Steamers, as the Comets had taken a pair of Three Rivers North matchups in the regular season.
And third, Newman's ability to limit Fulton's normally deadeye 3-point shooting played a large part in the victory.
"Fulton's a really good team," Newman coach Ray Sharp said. "They've got 21 wins, and it's tough to beat a team like that three times. I thought we matched their intensity, and we were just able to execute a little bit better than them tonight."
The Steamers (21-10) hit 11 3-pointers to hold off Morrison in a regional semifinal on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Steamers converted just five, and it took them 17 attempts to do that.
Kyle Huebner hit 3 of 7 from long distance, but Fulton's two other main snipers, Zach Barber and Matt Dail, were held in check. Barber was 1-for-7 from long distance, while Dail did not attempt a 3-pointer.
The key was a Newman man-to-man defense that did whatever it could to push the Steamers away from the basket.
"We figured the higher out we kept them on the court, out by the volleyball line, the harder it would be for them to run their offense," Newman senior guard Micah Trancoso said. "We tried to chase them off the 3-point line."
The Steamers did have some success taking the ball to the basket, but that was no bargain either. Waiting for them there was the Comets' 6-foot-7 sophomore center Noah McCarty, who blocked five shots and altered at least that many more.
"It's tough when you go in the lane with McCarty in there," Barber said.
Barber led the Steamers with 15 points, many of them on drives to the tin or on pull-ups over McCarty's out-stretched arms.
"Barber's is really good going to the basket," coach Sharp said. "He went in there like a hot knife through butter."
The Comets (27-2) led by as many as 14 points (45-31) after a basket from Nolan McGinn midway through the third quarter, but the Steamers made one final push. They got to within six (52-46) after Barber's lone 3 with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter, but Newman's John Payan answered with a 3 to up the margin back to nine points.
Newman hit 10 consecutive free throws in the final 3:32 to preserve the victory.
McCarty was a force down low with 23 points on 11-for-16 shooting, and he also had nine rebounds, five blocks and four steals. He was a problem all night for the Steamers, whose tallest player, the 6-5 Dail, plays mostly outside.
"It would be nice to have a 6-7 player – I wish I had two or three of them," Fulton coach R.J. Coffey said. "He's a good basketball player. He got the ball deep, did a nice job of getting position, and he finished. Unfortunately, we just don't have that big guy to bang with him consistently."
Payan added 15 points for Newman, A.J. Sharp had nine points, four assists and four steals, McGinn had eight points, and Trancoso added six points, six steals and three assists. The balanced effort brought a smile to McCarty's face.
"It's an excellent feeling, coming out and playing like we did tonight," McCarty said.
Barber led Fulton with 15 points, and Huebner added 13. They are part of a junior class that includes starter Seth Sanderson and sixth man Jason Osborn who won the most games since the Steamers went 22-7 in 2002-03.
"Now we know what we can accomplish, even with not having a ton of height on our team," Barber said. "This sets the bar. We expect 20 wins every season from here on out. We expect to play in these big games, so we'll be working hard this offseason."
Star of the game: Noah McCarty, Newman, 23 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 steals
Key performers: John Payan, Newman, 15 points, 5 rebounds; Zach Barber, Fulton, 15 points, 4 rebounds
Up next: 2A Bureau Valley Sectional, Newman vs. Seneca, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday