The last time Newman tangled with Seneca, the Comets took the fight right out of the Fighting Irish.
Round 2 is on tap for tonight, when the teams meet in a Class 2A Bureau Valley Sectional semifinal in Manlius. The winner advances to the title game on Friday night to take on IC Catholic, a 65-63 winner in overtime against Winnebago in the first semi on Tuesday night.
A year ago, Newman and Seneca also squared off in a sectional semifinal, at Byron. The Comets rolled over the Fighting Irish, 46-27.
“I’m sure Seneca’s looking at this as a revenge game from last year,” Newman coach Ray Sharp said, “and are really going to be keyed up.”
Seneca (24-5) won the Interstate Eight Conference this season, then took the Princeton Regional with 59-54 victory against Bureau Valley.
Sharp watched tape of that game and knows his defense will have to be at the top of its game to slow down the Fighting Irish attack.
“We know as a team, they execute really well,” Sharp said. “Their first possession against BV, they had eight flex cutters. That means they reversed the ball eight times on one possession.
“That’s what we’ve got to be ready for, and make sure we’ve got the mental focus to handle a team that’s going to execute, execute, execute on us.”
The unquestioned leader of the Fighting Irish is 6-foot-2 senior guard Conlan Callahan, a 4-year starter. He averages 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and their attack runs through him. He shoots 41 percent (67 of 161) from 3-point range, and is also a deadly (78-for-90, 86 percent) free-throw shooter.
“When they need a bucket, he usually goes and gets it,” Sharp said. “If you leave him open or give him an advantage on the dribble, he’s going to try and take it to the basket.”
“We definitely have to keep an eye on him,” Newman senior guard Nate Terveer added. “He’s a great player, but they have more than just him. We have to know where everybody’s at the entire game.”
Carter Gallick, a 5-10 senior, runs the point and averages 10.1 points and 2.5 assists per game. Alex Bott, a 6-2 senior, is the third guard and averages 9.7 points and 3.1 rebounds.
The inside muscle is provided by Austin Applebee, a 6-5 senior averaging 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 points, and Brad Wyss, a 6-2 senior averaging 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds.
The Comets used a helping man-to-man defense to stifle the Irish a year ago, Callahan in particular. He was 0-for-10 from the floor and didn’t score a point.
“We’ve got to play good team defense,” Sharp said, “and make sure all five guys are guarding the ball, and seeing their own man, and not getting lost in the rotations when we’re helping.”
Newman (27-2) handled spirited efforts from West Carroll and Fulton to win the Morrison Regional, its third straight regional crown.
Noah McCarty, a 6-7 sophomore center, was particularly hard to handle against the Steamers, with 23 points and nine rebounds. He’s averaging 14.4 points and 8.7 boards per game.
Point guard A.J. Sharp (14.2 points, 5.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds) makes the attack go, and shooting guard John Payan (13.3 points, 3.1 rebounds) is the top long-range threat.
Terveer (7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.1 steals) and Micah Trancoso (3.4 points, 3.1 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals) are each superior defenders.
“We’re really excited to get back to the sectional game,” Terveer said, “and we know that Seneca is really good again this year. They’ve got a few guys back that are good scorers, and they execute really well. We have to come in ready to play.”
Class 2A Bureau Valley Sectional semifinal
Newman vs. Seneca
When: 7 p.m. tonight