LANARK – For being a team known for its up-tempo style of play, Newman hit a roadblock Friday night against East Dubuque in the 1A Eastland Sectional final.
The Comets instead had to grind out possessions in the halfcourt offensively, and cover driving and passing lanes on the defensive end, ultimately hanging on for a 46-43 win over the Warriors.
“I thought if it was a game in the 40s, they had the advantage,” Newman coach Ray Sharp said. “If it was a game in the 60s, we had the advantage.
“To win at their tempo was really nice,” Sharp added.
Newman (27-4) led by nine points at 44-35 with 4:33 remaining after a Devon House putback off an airball by Gehrig Koerner. But East Dubuque (29-4) didn’t flinch in making its comeback, as Hunter Sherman picked up a steal and assist to Payton Heller to cut the Comets’ lead to 44-42. Lane Boyer had a chance to tie it with 36 seconds left at the free-throw line, but missed his second attempt.
“That’s our demeanor. We just stay calm,” East Dubuque coach Eric Miller said. “They expected to be here and wanted to be in this moment. We’ll keep working and try to get back again.”
After an empty Newman possession, senior Travis Williams preserved the Comets’ third trip to the supersectional in 7 years with a steal and pair of clutch free throws with just 6 seconds remaining. Sherman’s 3-point attempt for the tie at the buzzer came up well short.
“I just knew we were going to have to score to win this game,” Williams said. “We knew they were a good team that was going to fight until the end. I knew I needed to make a play. I just saw the ball and went for it.”
Boyer and Sherman hit 3-pointers to give the Warriors a 24-20 advantage early in the third quarter, but Newman answered with a 3 from Cade Gorzny and a steal and layup by Williams. A 3 from Heller gave East Dubuque a 31-28 edge, but the Comets ended the third on a 7-0 run, as Devon House scored a bucket inside and Gorzny connected on a 3 and pair of free throws.
The pace was set from the opening tip, as both teams seemed content with a game that moved at a snail’s pace in the first half.
“I think both of the teams executed their game plans really well,” Miller said. “We tried to make this a grinder. We tried to take away their middle, and they knew we like to get in the middle and tried to take that away.”
A three-point play by Williams and a 3 from Gorzny gave Newman an 8-2 lead with 3:21 left in the first. The Comets’ advantage grew to 13-4 after another Gorzny 3 and a jumper by Ethan Behrens, but Heller and Sherman came back with a 3 and jumper, respectively.
Sherman and Nicholas Kluesner hit 3s to give the Warriors their first lead of the game midway through the second up 18-15. House tied it with a three-point play following Kluesner’s bucket, and Williams made a nice move inside for a bucket to give Newman a 20-18 halftime lead.
Both teams spent the majority of the year ranked in the 1A AP Poll. The Warriors returned most of their lineup from last year’s sectional-title squad, while the Comets had to fill starting roles after losing in the 2A regional finals.
“It’s special because [we] graduated five seniors last year who all started,” Sharp said. “We came back with a new group. They believed, and got it done.”
East Dubuque shot 39 percent (15-for-38) from the field, and was just 5-for-11 from the free-throw line. Heller led the way with a game-high 16 points and a team-high six rebounds.
“I’m always looking to score and stay aggressive,” Heller said. “We got a few good looks, they just didn’t fall. That could be the difference in the game.”
Sherman pitched in 13 points, three boards, two assists and four steals, while Boyer was held to just eight points for the Warriors.
Newman finished at 41 percent (16-for-39) from the floor. House and Williams combined for 30 points (15 each), 14 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Gorzny added 14 points, three boards and two assists.
The Comets will battle Providence St. Mel on Tuesday at the NIU Convocation Center. The Knights blasted Chicago Douglass 89-50 in the Chicago Robeson Sectional final.
1A Eastland Sectional final
Newman 46, East Dubuque 43
Star of the game: Travis Williams, Newman, 15 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
Key performers: Devon House, Newman, 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists; Cade Gorzny, Newman, 14 points, 4 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 2 assists; Payton Heller, East Dubuque, 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists; Hunter Sherman, East Dubuque, 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals
Up next: 1A DeKalb Super-Sectional, Newman vs. Providence St. Mel, 6 p.m. Tuesday