MANLIUS – Newman coach Ray Sharp’s message to his team was simple: Slow down Seneca’s Conlan Callahan, and we’ll be just fine.
For the second consecutive year, the Comets bottled up the Fighting Irish’s do-it-all guard. This time, the result was a 54-39 victory Wednesday night at the Class 2A Bureau Valley Sectional.
Callahan averaged 14 points to pace a balanced Seneca attack, but he is the unquestioned go-to player for the Fighting Irish. He shot 2-for-8, however, and scored six points, thanks to some in-your-face defense from the Comets’ Nate Terveer and friends.
“I’m really happy with how we played as a team,” Terveer said. “It wasn’t just me. It was everybody working together. We knew who their best player was, and we worked as a team to stop him.”
A year ago, Nate’s older brother, Lucas, guarded Callahan at the Byron Sectional. Callahan missed all 10 of his field-goal attempts as the Comets won 46-27.
“Just play hard, stay low, and play smart,” Nate said, when asked what advice Lucas passed on for Wednesday’s game.
Sharp’s goal was to hold Callahan to under 10 points, and couldn’t have been more pleased to get that done.
“If you can keep the other team’s best player under 10, you’re doing something,” Sharp said. “Terveer did a great job on him individually, but it was really team defense that got it done. Whenever they ran him off screens, we got switched.
“We tried to not let him catch it, but if he did catch it, if he put it on the floor, we doubled him right away. He’s such a great player, you’ve just got to get it out of his hands and make somebody else beat you.”
Austin Applebee (13 points, 5-for-10 shooting) and Alex Bott (12 points, 5-for-8 shooting) were effective for the Fighting Irish, but nobody else picked up the slack. The rest of the squad was 5-for-27 from the field.
Seneca coach Russell Witte credited the Comets with some sticky man-to-man defense, but in his view, the key was having 6-foot-7 sophomore Noah McCarty waiting near the basket. McCarty blocked five shots and was a disruptive force in the paint whenever the Fighting Irish ventured inside.
“If you want to point to one main difference, McCarty inside, that’s a big difference,” Witte said. “We didn’t have a problem getting to the rim. We had a problem getting to the rim and finishing. If he didn’t block the shot, he altered it. That’s something that’s pretty special to have.
“Not too many teams have a kid like that.”
McCarty led the Comets with 16 points, on 7-for-9 shooting. He converted all five of his field goal attempts in the first half as the Comets seized a 25-20 lead at the break.
In the second half, his minutes were limited as he dealt with a migraine headache he attributed to not being hydrated enough. Still, he soldiered on, even as more of decoy after halftime.
“Our guards did a nice job facilitating, hitting open shots,” McCarty said, “and I just tried to do what I could to get a win tonight for our team.”
“Noah wasn’t as effective in the second half,” coach Sharp said, “but having him in the game, it really opened up some of our other guys to shoot from the perimeter. Since he had such a good first half, they had to be aware of him.”
Seneca got to within seven points (39-32) when Callahan opened the fourth quarter by hitting a 3-pointer, but Newman’s A.J. Sharp answered with a 3 of his own to up the margin back to 10 points.
The Comets led by at least nine points the rest of the way, and hit all eight of their free-throw attempts the final 4 minutes to keep the Irish at bay. Newman hit all 14 of its free throws in the game.
Next up for the Comets is IC Catholic (23-6), which took down Winnebago 65-63 in overtime on Tuesday night. The Knights have an elite sophomore center in Rhashaun Epting, a dangerous swingman in senior Clark Brinkman, and quickness and athleticism across the board, according to coach Sharp.
“Epting is a lefty, he’s very skilled, and it’s going to be a great battle inside against Noah,” Sharp said. “Brinkman can do everything. He shoots the 3, he can take it the basket, and he’s incredibly athletic. Their other players are very quick and fast. It’s going to be a great challenge for us on both ends of the floor.”
Class 2A Bureau Valley Sectional semifinal
Newman 54, Seneca 39
Star of the game: Noah McCarty (N), 16 points, 5 blocked shots
Key performers: A.J. Sharp (N), 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals; Austin Applebee IS), 15 rebounds, 13 points
Up next: Championship game, Newman vs. IC Catholic, 7 p.m. Friday