MANLIUS – This sectional final thing is becoming old hat for the Newman Comets ... and they're getting good at it, too.
The Comets earned their second trip to the Elite Eight in the past 3 years after their 65-59 victory against IC Catholic on Friday in the finals of the Class 2A Bureau Valley Sectional.
Next up is the DeKalb Supersectional on Tuesday night, when Newman will take on Bloomington Central Catholic. The Saints upended Rockridge 56-55 at the Stanford Olympia Sectional final.
"It feels great," Newman senior A.J. Sharp said. "It was a team win, a team effort, and everyone was involved, from the bench to the people on the court. It was just an overall great team win."
"I think we have a really strong team this year," sophomore center Noah McCarty added. "Hopefully we can go to the supersectional, get another W, and go down to state in Peoria."
The Comets (29-2) advanced to the supersectional in DeKalb two seasons ago in Class 1A. They were in 2A a year ago, but lost to Winnebago in the Byron Sectional final.
"We had some kids that played in the supersectional up at Northern 2 years ago, and they were really determined to get back there," Newman coach Ray Sharp said. "I'm really happy, and very proud of our team."
Newman showed it meant business from the beginning against IC Catholic (23-7), hitting 11 of its first 13 shots from the field in building a 27-15 lead a minute into the second quarter. Senior forward John Payan hit all four of his first-quarter shots, two of which were from long distance.
"We knew we had to come out firing," A.J. Sharp said. "We knew we had to come out and hit them in the mouth early, and make them not want to be on the court with us."
The Comets' lead grew to as many as 17 points (40-23) on a basket from Nate Terveer early in the third quarter before the the Knights fought back. IC Catholic went on a 21-6 run, as senior guard Sean Sutton took matters into his own hands.
Sutton hit five 3-pointers in a 4½-minute span, the last of which got IC Catholic to within 46-44 with 2:42 remaining in the third quarter.
"We were fighting hard, but other guys just weren't hitting their shots tonight, which they normally hit," Sutton said. "I just decided if this was going to be my last game, I'm going to go out with a bang."
Sutton averaged a modest 5.5 points per game this season, and hit 28 of 102 3-pointers. Over a stretch in the third quarter, however, the Comets were virtually powerless to stop him.
"We had a scouting report that you've just got to contest a little bit, not much, but man, he proved us wrong," A.J. Sharp said.
"He just got hot," coach Sharp added, "and that brought them back. Sometimes a senior will do that. Seniors are playing for it not to be their last game, and you never know what they're going to do to try to make that happen."
Needing a spark, the Comets got one in the form of junior forward Nolan McGinn. Coach Sharp put the rangy McGinn on the floor to make IC's Clark Brinkman work harder on defense, as Brinkman had primarily been guarding Payan, more of a spot-up shooter.
McGinn scored on three drives to the basket in the fourth quarter, and added a free throw. His final basket gave the Comets a 57-50 lead with 2:44 remaining.
A basket from McCarty put Newman up 61-54 with 55 seconds remaining, and the Comets hit just enough free throws (4-for-10 in the final 35.8 seconds) to hang on.
McCarty paced a balanced attack with 17 points and seven rebounds. Payan had 16 points and five boards, Terveer had 13 points and four assists, and Sharp added 10 points and five assists.
Sutton led IC Catholic with 18 points, all on 3-pointers. Brinkman had 12 points, while Anthony Taylor added 12 points, eight assists and four steals.
Rhashaun Epting, the Knights' leading scorer at 19.9 ppg entering the game, was held to seven points on 3-for-20 shooting.
He did hit back-to-back baskets to get the Knights to within 55-50 with 3:26 to go, but fouled out at the 2:02 mark and his team down 57-50. The official ruled he bumped into Terveer, who had lost the ball near the Newman free-throw line. It was not only Epting's fifth foul, but it negated an IC fast-break opportunity.
"I felt his knee go into my thigh, and it made me lose my balance," Terveer said, "but I might have slipped a little. I don't know. It could have been called either way, but luckily, the call went our way."
Terveer hit both free throws to put Newman up 59-50.
Star of the game: Noah McCarty, Newman, 17 points, 5 rebounds
Key performers: Sean Sutton, Indian Creek, 18 points, 6-for-10 3-pointers; John Payan, Newman, 16 points, 5 rebounds
Up next: DeKalb Supersectional, Newman vs. Bloomington Central Catholic, 8 p.m. Tuesday