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Comets down MV; Potomac next

South Boston News / February 27, 2014

Three Comets scored in double figures and the Halifax County High School varsity boys’ basketball took an important step forward Tuesday night, winning its Region 5-A quarterfinal game.

The Comets downed Mount Vernon of Alexandria, 46-40.

Both teams struggled on offense. HCHS missed 20 of 22 attempts from three-point range and had real trouble at times against the visitors’ defense in the waning moments. But the visitors also missed key shots and finished two of 19 from three-point range. Both teams had 13 turnovers.

HCHS used dribble drive penetration very effectively early, as Trelanne Johnson proved particularly tough to stop. But the Comets slowed in the second half.

The Comets got 18 points from senior James Burden, who did an excellent job on the glass and scoring inside.

Trelanne Johnson provided more valuable senior leadership with 14 points and Tavion Petty sank two 3s on the way to 14 points.

Halifax also hit clutch free throws in the final period. HCHS went three-for-four from the line in the fourth quarter of the elimination game.

The Comets never lost control of the game. But the final three minutes were not without drama, and HCHS really struggled in the fourth quarter.

Mount Vernon went on a 16-7 surge in the last eight minutes before falling short. L.B. Jones led MVHS with eight points, while Bryce Washington added six and Brendon Matturey added five.

Burden and Johnson were the lone Comets to score field goals in the final period. Petty added two free throws and T. Johnson had one.

Halifax had a so-so night at the foul line, connecting on six of ten. MV went four-for-eight from the line.

HCHS led 39-24 at the end of the third period, before the start of a turbulent final eight minutes.

Halifax really cooled off with its shooting down the stretch.

“The crazy thing about it is, we’ve been doing more shooting in practice. Now that we’re in tournament play, we’ve done less physical activity and more shooting,” said Comet coach Larry Epperly.

“The ball just wouldn’t go in (against Mount Vernon). We had some good shots,” said Epperly.

But the key was the Comet defense.

The man-to-man defensive scheme for the Comets had produced three games in the postseason where the opposition has settled for 40 points or less.

As in 28-39 and 40.

“We tell our guys all the time, even when the basketball’s not going in the basket, if you defend, you have a chance to win. The second half, we couldn’t score, but our defense kept us in it,” said Epperly.

The Comets put on a show early, and that proved to be a good thing at the end.

T. Johnson got an early rejection on MV’s first series and Burden scored off an assist from his fellow senior leader. T. Johnson pierced the visitors’ defense for a 4-0 lead on excellent dribble drive basketball.

Burden added another layup for a 6-0 lead. Petty drained a 3-pointer, and Mt. Vernon was forced to call an early timeout with 4:55 remaining in the first period.

The Comets ultimately led 13-6 at the end of the first period. Petty sank his last three of the night, and HCHS led 16-6. The Comets got superb offensive work from T. Johnson and led 20-9. T. Johnson had six of his 14 points in the second period.

The Comets used excellent ball movement and showcased stellar teamwork on the way to a 30-16 halftime lead. James Smith made a nice move down the lane to get the Comets their final scoring of the first half.

MV came out on fire early in the third and gave HCHS some trouble. But the Comets kept their cool and ended up winning the third period, 9-8.

The final eight minutes proved stressful. Will Miller, who has had a tremendous sophomore season, ultimately fouled out.

“We had a tough quarter, couldn’t hit any shots. We had to stay in there, play some defense. My man hit a couple of shots, back to back, had to stay in there and stay focused,” said Miller.

But HCHS was able to do enough to advance, which is all that counts now.

And Mount Vernon had more success holding T. Johnson in check. The second half saw Mount Vernon put a big man in the path of T. Johnson’s dribble drive efforts.

He had ten at halftime, but only scored four in the second half.

“The second half, they came and put that big (man) in the middle, so I couldn’t really penetrate (in the paint),” said Johnson.

The Comets had trouble with ball security in the second half. “They made us turn the ball over a lot in the second half,” Smith said.

HCHS led, 41-35, with two minutes left. Miller got his fourth foul with 1:44 remaining.

HCHS had inbounds possession moments later, but floundered briefly with a turnover. Mt. Vernon missed a couple of key shots, and Miller snagged an important rebound with 1:21 left.

Mt. Vernon got a steal on strong pressure defense, but missed a 3-pointer.

Trelanne Johnson then came away with a loose ball after the bonusphere misfire.

Johnson hit the first of his free throws for a 42-37 Comet lead with 1:12 left, but missed the back end of a one-and-one.

With 56 fateful seconds left, HCHS led by five.

Mt. Vernon missed again and Burden snagged the rebound. Petty was fouled with 38.2 ticks left. He made both to give the Comets a 44-37 lead. Miller fouled out with 25.7 seconds left, and Mt. Vernon completed a three-point play. HCHS led by four, and Trelanne Johnson got called for a turnover.

Mt. Vernon missed a 3-pointer, and James Smith, Jr. got fouled with 11 seconds left.

Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one.

T. Johnson snared a critical rebound so HCHS could keep possession. Burden scored off the offensive glass and HCHS had a six-point margin. The clock ran out on Mt. Vernon’s season, while the Comets, bolstered by its rabid student section, celebrated at mid-court.

The tension was real.

“None of us could hit a shot. I kept on missing threes. Luckily, our defense kept it for us and got the ball back so we could hit the clutch free throws,” said Petty.

“Nobody got excited. You’ve got to keep playing the game. The good teams, when things aren’t going well, have to find a way to win,” said Epperly.

Epperly conceded the MV press bothered HCHS, but the Comets also did enough to preserve the win.

“We made it more difficult than it really was. We left our feet to pass a couple of times and looked to go back, instead of ahead. When it gets down to it, everybody knows it’s a big game, and there are going to be some mistakes. You’ve got to play through it,” said Epperly.

Bottom line, “we hung in there and we made a couple of free throws at the end, and we were able to run some clock. And the positives are so many. “We’ve got some tough kids,” said Epperly.

“We were on top of our game the first half. We were able to build a lead, and maybe we got a little complacent the second half, but our defense didn’t change,” said Epperly.

“We gave up one easy basket we shouldn’t, we got lost on a switch, and they threw it to the rim for an easy score. But other than that, it was difficult for them to score all night long. When you get to the regional playoffs and you hold a team to 40 points, you’re defending,” said Epperly.

The Comets are one game away from the 5-A state tournament.

As for the matchup tonight, Petty said, “anybody can be beat. We go out and we execute, shoot like we’re supposed to, we can win the game.” Burden also had a stellar game, with strong board work. And he was able to capitalize on excellent ball movement by his teammates.

Burden also saw room for improvement, especially on defense. “We’ve got to talk on defense, because defense will make us win,” said Burden.

HCHS won’t make major changes, with a massive task immediately ahead. Epperly said of the looming Potomac matchup, “It’d be the same as it is every game. You still have to be who you are. You still have to do what you do. With one day preparation, there’s not a lot of changes anybody can make.

Potomac appears to have an imposing size advantage, with suffocating defense and excellent three-point potential. And they’re playing at home.

“We’ve got to go up there and hopefully, we can make some shots. That’s the whole key for us right now. We’ve got the defensive thing going, now if we can just make some shots ...”

Epperly, noting the size advantage, said the Comets would double up in the post. “The thing that makes it tough, they have 3-point shooters, too. They (Potomac) made nine threes last game. They appear to be a team that’s got inside and outside game,” said Epperly.

The winner of the HCHS-Potomac game advances to the regional final, and the season is over for the losing team.

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