STERLING – Newman’s defense caused all kinds of problems for Kewanee in the first half, swiping eight steals in the first two quarters of Friday’s Three Rivers East game.
Though the Boilers took better care of the ball in the second half, it was a steal and a layup from Marcus Williams that helped the Comets put the game away in a 67-64 Newman win.
Kewanee trailed 64-62 with less than a minute to go and had the ball, but as the Boilers were trying to get out of a trap in the corner with a pass toward mid-court, the 6-foot-1 freshman swooped in front of it and went the other way for a layup.
“I saw my teammates trap the ball in the corner and I knew they were going to pressure them,” Williams said.
“I knew he was going to throw that back pass, because that’s what happens in practice,” Williams contionued, “and I was in the right spot.”
Williams also grabbed a steal on the next Kewanee possession, and finished the game with three thefts.
“When he comes in, we can play 1-3-1 [zone] because he’s great on the top,” Newman coach Ray Sharp said. “He read that pass coming out of the trap and got the steal and went down and got the layup, and that was a huge play.”
Kavon Russell went long stretches for Kewanee when he simply couldn’t miss. The Boilers guard shot 10-of-14 from the field in the first half and scored 22 points. The shooting cooled somewhat in the second half, but he still scored another 15 points to finish with 37.
“I was doing nothing [to set him up], that was the five guys on the floor finding him in the right spot and him moving without the ball,” Kewanee coach Shaune Lewis said. “He’s an outstanding player, and that’s what he’s supposed to do.”
He scored 10 baskets in the paint, knocked down four 3-pointers, and hit pull-up and mid-range jumpers twice.
“He scored in all three areas of the floor,” Sharp said. “We just had to keep it out of his hands as much as possible. I thought our change to the 1-3-1 every once in a while really helped us slow him down a little bit.”
Russell scored eight of the Boilers’ 12 points in the first quarter, 14 of their 16 in the second, then 11 in the third as Kewanee outscored Newman 23-13 in the quarter to take the lead.
“We picked our pace up a lot,” Russell said. “We came out with our hair on fire and we started playing some real basketball.”
Newman (17-1, 3-0 TRAC) led 35-28 at halftime and extended that lead to 41-31 early in the third quarter before Kewanee scored the next eight points. Carson Sauer scored a basket in the paint, and Newman turnovers on the next two possessions led to layups for Trenton Terry, then Sauer scored again in the paint to cut the Comets’ lead to 41-39.
Newman’s Devon House scored a bucket in the paint, but Russell responded with a 3-pointer to get Kewanee within one. A Russell putback moments later tied the score at 44-44, the first tie since a 10-10 tie late in the first, and Niko Powe put Kewanee ahead with a layup with 2:17 to play in the quarter.
“We just came out of halftime and didn’t really do a whole lot of adjustments besides a couple things in our zone offense to get some easier looks,” Lewis said. “I thought the ball went in the hole and it picked up our defense. We started to get them to turn it over and rush in their offense. The effort all game was outstanding.”
Kewanee (6-11, 1-2 TRAC) led 51-48 after three, and led by as many as six, 55-49, early in the fourth before Newman countered with a run of its own.
“The biggest thing is don’t panic,” Sharp said. “We’ve just got to get a couple stops on the defensive end and come down and score and make sure we execute the offense. I thought Devon took over a little bit when he needed to, and we got him the ball, ran some sets to get him the ball.”
House hit a layup and another basket in the paint on back-to-back possessions. He was fouled on the second bucket and missed the free throw, but Newman got the offensive rebound and Connor McBride scored to tie the game with 5:16 to go.
The teams traded the lead back and forth before House converted a three-point play with 3:05 left to put Newman up 62-60. Russell tied it again on Kewanee’s next trip down the floor, but House put the Comets in front for good with a pair of free throws.
House scored 11 points in the fourth quarter alone, and Newman outscored the Boilers 19-13 in the last 8 minutes.
“We stopped turning over the ball,” House said. “We calmed down and played our game. They were doubling us, pressing us, we were turning over the ball [in the third quarter] and they were getting easy points, so we calmed down and got the ball up the court, started getting the ball inside.”
House scored five points in the first half, but shot 7-for-15 from the field in the second half, finishing the game with 24 points to go with 12 rebounds.
“The first half I was spinning away, shooting bad shots,” House said. “The second half, I started going up, going stronger to the rim, going up with power.”
Kewanee turned the ball over 15 times in the first half, and Newman led by as many as 11 early on.
“I thought our 1-3-1 was working pretty well,” Williams said. “We were definitely getting the traps we wanted in the corners and at the top of the key and the wing. It was just good, getting the pressure on the ball, making them hesitant with the ball.”
But Kewanee turned the ball over just twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half, up until three turnovers in three straight possessions in the final minute helped Newman put the game away.
Newman 67, Kewanee 64
Star of the game: Kavon Russell, Kewanee, 37 points, 9 rebounds
Key performers: Devon House, Newman, 24 points, 12 rebounds; Connor McBride, Newman, 15 points; Marcus Williams, Newman, 11 points; Niko Powe, Kewanee, 10 points
Up next: Manny’s Shootout, Newman vs. Milledgeville, 8 p.m. Saturday at West Carroll Middle School