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Comets squeak past GW in regular season finale

South Boston News
Comet Will Miller powers to the basket in the third quarter of Thursday's HCHS varsity boys basketball game against GW. The Comets held on for the 49-48 win in the regular season finale. (David Conner II photo)
SoVaNow.com / February 07, 2014



Comet fans will savor this one for a while.

Defense, key free throw shooting, and a large crowd all played important roles Thursday night as the Halifax County varsity boys’ basketball team upended GW-Danville, 49-48, in South Boston.

This is an important win for the confidence of the players, and it came on Senior Night, adding a special element to the celebration.

The win set off a spirited mid-court celebration, as the Comet Crazies joined some of the players to savor a regular season split against GW.

HCHS had posted back to back 9-12 campaigns in the first two seasons under Larry Epperly. This team finished its regular season with a 16-6 mark.

“We’ve been blessed with good kids. Anybody who spends time around this team knows we have really hard-working kids that did the work in the off-season and prepared well,” said Epperly.

“You win with people. We have good people. Really proud of them, happy for our seniors. Happy for our team, the community, our school,” said Epperly. “It’s just good for everybody.”

“We’re all Comets. We’re all one. The student body tonight was tremendous. That group over there, they cheered and cheered. They were a great sixth man tonight. They (the fans) got behind us.”

It was loud in the Comet gym, making for a tough environment for the visitors.

HCHS found a way to get the job done.

“We’re not the tallest team, maybe not the strongest,” said Epperly. “But we’ve got a deep will. This bunch all year long has played hard.”

Keyshawn Johnson rebounded from a back injury suffered in Monday’s loss at GW and led the Comets with 13 points. James Burden had 11 and Trelanne Johnson had ten.

JaMarcus Hairston led GW with 15 points. The Eagles again had to go without their starting point guard, Tamario Rodgers, sidelined with a medical issue.

And it all came down to a frantic last-second deal, reminiscent of the Franklin County game at home.

Will Miller, who delivered an excellent overall game and stout defensive work, sank the second of two free throws with 7.2 seconds remaining.

HCHS made a solid defensive stand on GW’s final possession, and then snagged the final rebound to seal the win.

The Comets had not won 16 regular season games in boys’ varsity hoops since the 2001-02 season.

“We wanted to get a victory and take care of business at home,” said K. Johnson, who gave GW trouble with his dribble drive ability. “We have a lot of confidence ... everybody played good.”

Neither team could run away, and it all got settled in a very tense final stretch.

GW forced a violation as Halifax tried to get the ball inbounds. The Comets led, 48-46, with 1:19 left in the contest.

The Eagles worked the ball around, and finally Hairston was fouled by Comet senior James Burden with 55.6 seconds left in the contest. Hairston sank both free throws to force a 48-all tie.

GW backed off a bit on its pressure, and HCHS started rotating the ball around the perimeter. HCHS held for the last shot, with K. Johnson handling the ball to preserve the possession for HCHS.

After another Comet inbounds play, Miller was fouled with 7.2 seconds left. The sophomore missed the first attempt, but drained the second free throw shot for the eventual winning edge.

GW inbounded, got off one final running shot attempt but it went awry. Miller snagged the final rebound.

“We had a timeout, but we weren’t going to use it. We were hoping they (GW) would scramble and end up with a shot like they got. We’ve been in this position before (Franklin County at home). We told them to keep it in front of you, be there, don’t foul. It worked out for us this time.

“We weren’t going to call timeout, let them set up something. When the free throw went through, we set our defense. Guys matched up pretty good. It (the final GW shot) was an off-balance runner. We got what we wanted,” said Epperly.

The Comet Crazies led that spirited celebration that spilled onto the court.

Both teams struggled with their 3-point shooting, as Halifax was four-for-12 from beyond the arc. GW went 3-for-14 from bonusland.

HCHS had an important edge at the free throw line, sinking nine of 11. The Comets finished on a roll, connecting on seven of right free throws in the final period.

“It was a big game. We lost to them up there (in Danville). Rivalry game, it’s always like this,” said Trelanne Johnson.

T.Johnson said HCHS had much better defense, and the Comets were more consistent offensively, too.

“The defense was a whole lot better. We got some shots. Up there (in Danville), we missed a lot of shots. Tonight, we hit a whole lot of shots and got some rebounds. We pushed the break a little bit, stopped their transition,” he said.

Halifax had problems with ball security, finishing with 19 turnovers.

GW went 3-for-14 from beyond the arc, and the Eagles were eight of 14 from the line. GW had ten turnovers.

The Eagles built a 35-26 lead until a player technical against the Eagles with 3:01 remaining helped Halifax regain momentum.

The Comets battled back to a 35-34 deficit heading into the final period, sparked by a turnover forced by T. Johnson. The Comet senior then hit the final basket of the third period to cut the GW lead to one.

HCHS had led, 22-20, at halftime.

GW got out to a slow start in the first two periods, scoring nine points in the first quarter and 11 in the second. HCHS generated early confidence, leading 17-9 at the end of the first period.

Halifax had three treys in the first period, with K. Johnson striking for two and Tavion Petty, who had nine points overall, draining one beyond the arc.

GW outscored the Comets, 11-5, in the second quarter.

GW outscored Halifax, 15-12, in the third period, adding more drama to the final eight minutes. HCHS won the final period - barely - outscoring the Eagles, 15-13.

HCHS was able to keep pace with the Eagles.

Halifax had more turnovers than Epperly would like, but the Eagles also can generate pressure. “They’re after you all the time. You’re going to make some mistakes, but we didn’t let it bother us,” said Epperly.

K. Johnson noted a difference between Monday night, when the Comets had considerable adversity, and Thursday’s win.

“We didn’t have anybody foul out. We had no injuries. ... We played hard the whole game,” said K. Johnson. “When we play our best, we can play with anybody.”

“We thought we were in pretty good shape over at (GW’s) place on Monday, until adversity hit, with Keyshawn going down and Trelanne fouling out. I’m just happy with where the program is. We’re not done yet, I hope. We’ve still got some big games coming up,” Epperly said.

T. Johnson, one of the players honored on his last regular season game in Cometland, savored the Senior Night win.

“It’s a big accomplishment. You always want to beat GW. That’s the rival team. They can’t stand us, we can’t stand them. We always want to win,” said T. Johnson.

“This is amazing.” Burden added, “it felt really good. Just the happiest day to have, right here.”

“We’ve lost two overtime games. We were due for one of those (tightly contested games) to go our way,” said Epperly. “Our guys just battled.”

“This gives a lot of momentum going into the tournament. Our guys are feeling good about themselves right now,” said Epperly.

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