DeKALB – Newman had countless opportunities to crack against a freakishly talented and athletic bunch from Providence St. Mel on Tuesday night at the Class 1A DeKalb Supersectional.
In the end, a free throw from a player who exemplified the Comets’ resiliency made the difference to send the programto its first-ever state tournament berth.
Travis Williams hit the first of two free throws with 1.1
seconds left on the clock to lift Newman to a 61-60 victory over St. Mel at the Convocation
Center in DeKalb.
The Comets (28-4) now advance to the state tournament, which will begin Friday at 11:15 a.m. at Carver Arena in Peoria. Newman will take on Annawan, a 39-32 win against Colfax Ridgeview at the Normal Supersectional.
“It’s so special, doing this for the first time in school history,” senior guard Cade Gorzny said. “All of the alumni came to this game and really had our backs, and really wanted us to do this for Newman. It’s just a great feeling.”
“It feels great to go to state,” Devon House added. “It’s my sophomore year, I’ve never had this experience before, and it’s going to feel great out there playing with the same team I just won this game with. We’re going to try to win state for our high school.”
The Comets trailed by six points (51-45) early in the fourth quarter, but a 3 from House quickly sliced that deficit in half, and neither squad enjoyed more than a 3-point advantage the rest of the way.
Two free throws by House at the 3:12 mark gave Newman a 58-57 lead, and two more from Gorzny with 1:15 to play upped the Comets’ lead to three points (60-57).
St. Mel (18-10) tied the score at 60 following a 3-pointer by Eric Jordan with 44 seconds to go, setting the stage for a tense finish.
With about 10 seconds to go, Gorzny put up a 3 from the left wing that was blocked, but he retrieved the rebound and passed it to House at the top of the key.
House drove the lane and missed a runner, but Williams grabbed the board and was fouled hard by St. Mel’s Samuel Herenton with 1.4 seconds on the clock.
Williams had been 2-for-6 from the line at that point, but his first attempt went through clean to give the Comets a 61-60 lead.
“I was lucky enough to be in that situation in the [sectional final] game against East Dubuque,” Williams said, “and I just had to calm myself down mentally and not think about what the stakes were. I knew I had to put it all together and make that shot for my team.”
Williams missed the second attempt, and St. Mel called a timeout with 1.1 seconds to go.
After another timeout, the Knights inbounded the ball to junior guard Tyriel Nelson, who took a few dribbles and let it fly from just beyond halfcourt. The ball appeared to be on line, but was short, setting off a wild celebration among Newman players and supporters.
Nobody was happier than Newman coach Ray Sharp, who has been at the school for 11 years in two stints as head coach. He was 0-for-2 in previous trips to the supersectional.
“I’m so proud of this group of boys,” Sharp said. “They’re young men that stepped up and believed in what we were telling them, took the game plans every night and executed them. I’m very proud of them.”
Newman’s starting five all played between 24 and 29 minutes, and House, Gorzny and Williams did a lot of the heavy lifting.
The 6-foot-7 House finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, and got the best of St. Mel’s 6-10 center, Taeyon Neal, who had eight points and six boards.
“I just used ball fakes, got around [Neal] with my quickness and got the shots I wanted,” House said. “When the guards came in, they were really scrappy, so I just kicked the ball out.”
Gorzny hit 5 of 8 attempts from long distance and scored 18 points, and equally as important, was the chief ballhandler against a ball-hawking St. Mel defense.
“Their defense is outstanding,” Gorzny said. “They’re all over for the whole game, and I just had to calm myself down, do what I do best and lead the team.”
“It’s a lot of pressure on a point guard when you’ve got a team that’s applying pressure like that,” Sharp added. “[Gorzny] did a tremendous job. He had one bad pass all night where he threw it like 40 feet, and against athletic teams when you throw it 40 feet, that free safety’s coming to get it. Other than that, he did great.”
Williams had a rough first half as he was 0-for-7 from the field, with most of those getting swatted away by some active Knights. Williams began the second half by hitting a 3, though, and he ended up with 11 points, seven boards and four assists.
Nelson led St. Mel with 14 points, while Deion Jackson finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. The Knights led 57-54 after a basket from Jackson with 4:22 to go, but only managed the 3 from Jordan in the final minute the rest of the way.
“It was tough,” St. Mel coach Tim Ervin said. “We didn’t do a good job of scoring down the stretch. We had a few turnovers and a few bad shots, and that was the difference.”
1A DeKalb Supersectional
Newman 61, Providence St. Mel 60
Star of the game: Devin House, Newman, 26 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals
Key performers: Cade Gorzny, Newman, 18 points, 4 assists, 2 steals; Deion Jackson, St. Mel, 12 points, 14 rebounds
Up next: 1A state tournament semifinals, Newman vs. Annawan, 11:15 a.m. Friday at Carver Arena, Peoria