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Comets’ season ends

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / March 02, 2014
The Halifax County High School varsity boys’ basketball season ended with a thud Thursday night.

A potent Potomac squad absolutely silenced any hopes of advancement for the hard-working Comets in a Region 5-A north semifinal. HCHS, which ends its season with a 20-8 mark, got drilled by a Panther bunch playing at a much higher level, 69-27.

Potomac, now 26-1, stumbled in the regional final, losing to Wakefield, 70-66. Both teams advanced to the state 5-A hoops tournament this week.

The Comets, meanwhile, have to start thinking about next season after a strong shutdown performance by Potomac at its home gym. The Comets really never found an answer for the Panthers’ defensive intensity, suffering 13 turnovers in the first half alone. HCHS failed to get that many good looks against the Potomac defense and had a miserable shooting night.

“I thought we competed,” said Comet coach Larry Epperly. “Their talent overwhelmed us, their size, their strength, their quickness. We couldn’t find anything on offense to give us a chance to hang in there.

“On defense, boy, when the ball went on the board, they were just too big. We just couldn’t get it. When you get to this point, it’s a lot of talent,” said Epperly.

And Potomac owned the paint and boards against the Comets, consistently attacking for second shot opportunities and multiple dunks.

HCHS trailed, 30-11, at halftime, after sinking one basket in the second period. Potomac erupted in the third period, outscoring HCHS 21-8, and ending any lingering drama.

Seven Comets got on the board. Keyshawn Johnson finished with eight points and Trelanne Johnson had seven.

Tavion Petty had one 3-pointer and finished with five points. HCHS had two treys overall, with K. Johnson snagging the second trey.

The Comets, who had won their first regional game since the Thompson era, connected on eight field goals in the final three periods. Four of those came in the final period, with HCHS trailing 51-17 at the end of the third quarter.

Potomac, meanwhile, enjoyed perhaps its best performance of the year from 6-foot-9 senior center Trey Porter.

Porter dominated the Comets for 19 points and multiple blocked shots. 6-4 senior forward Randy Haynes had 18.

Boosted by a strong turnout from the local fan base, HCHS was competitive - briefly.

T. Johnson got a steal on Potomac’s first possession, but the Comets misfired on their first opportunity. HCHS almost immediately began to have turnover problems against a suffocating Panther defense.

Potomac later executed a backdoor cut and led 6-0. The Panthers got a 3-pointer from Keijon Honore and led 9-2, after T. Johnson finally got the Comets on the board at the 4:21 mark with a layup.

Keyshawn Johnson answered with a 3-pointer, and HCHS trailed, 9-5. HCHS forced a turnover, but then gave it back. Petty later connected on a three-pointer, and the Comets were hanging around, down 13-8, with 1:30 left in the first period.

But HCHS began to run into foul trouble, as T. Johnson got his second personal with 1.2 seconds left in the first period. Porter made both free throws and Potomac led, 15-8, at the end of the first period.

It really went away for HCHS before halftime. The Comets could not run their offense, and Panther defensive pressure set up a strong, balanced second period. Porter & Co. really stepped it up in the second half, as the Comets were all but shut down defensively.

“We couldn’t get shots inside. They swatted everything away,” said Epperly.

HCHS finished a miserable four-of-23 field, 17 percent, from the floor in the first half. The Comets were one of 14 in the second quarter, while Potomac went seven of 14.

“I think if we could have made a couple of shots early, we might could have hung around a little better. Boy, when you can’t put it in the basket, it’s downhill,” Epperly said.

Potomac head coach Keith Honore said defense “has been our staple all year. We hang our hats on our defense, because we know there are going to be some nights when we just can’t make shots. But we feel like if we can keep you from making shots while we’re not making shots, it gives us an opportunity to win.”

Potomac also used a scouting report that said the Panthers should trap and pressure the Comets. “Our kids did a great job with the game plan,” said Honore.

Potomac also has a strong front line, and the Panthers stressed strong rebounding. They certainly delivered there.

The pressure defense by Potomac badly hampered HCHS. Potomac is long and athletic, and ‘they’re the best team we’ve played this year, that’s for sure. I think they’re certainly worthy of going a lot further. They’ve got some size, they’ve got a lot of pieces of the puzzle,” Epperly said.

HCHS really struggled with ball security early. “They (Potomac) just chased us out of what we wanted to do, and that’s what good teams do. We just overwhelmed with talent. We could not match up with them,” said Epperly.

HCHS went cold from the field in its last game and a half, as the Comets really struggled against Mount Vernon in the second half Tuesday.

Despite the season-ending loss to Potomac, there are a number of positives for Comet boys’ hoops moving forward.

“We’ll not let this one game define what we did and who we are. It’s a shame you get beat this bad, but we won the Christmas classic. We won our conference and we won 20 games,” said Epperly.

Epperly did not believe at the start of the season that HCHS could reach the 5-A North regional semifinals and grab 20 wins.

“We had too many question marks early in the season to think we’d be here. Will Miller was a sophomore who hadn’t played a (varsity) game. Trelanne (Johnson) at that time had some health problens. We certainly exceeded what I thought we would do,” said Epperly.

Epperly said the Comets will be back next year. Petty, Miller and current freshman James Smith are expected back, and HCHS might get help from this year’s jayvee squad.

“We’ve got some things to shore up if we’re going to advance,” said Epperly.

“We’ll be back, and we’ll work harder. And we know now what it’s all about. We had 12 guys who had never been in this environment before, never played this kind of game,” said Epperly. “We’ve got some things we’ve got to work on, but it was a great year.”

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