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Defense key to Comets’ march to state tournament / February 21, 2021

When no. 6 Halifax County High School varsity boys basketball team defeated no. 4 Blacksburg High School 54-48 on Sunday, the road win solidified the Comets as a worthy opponent in the next round of state tournament play.

It wasn’t that the Comets hadn’t made a name for themselves in Region 4 basketball — far from it, as this was the team’s third consecutive season of advancing to the VHSL Class 4 state finals. The two previous state losses occurred in the tournament quarterfinal round.

The difference was in this season, the Comets had only played two regular season games — both of which they lost — before getting the opportunity to play in the Region 4D tournament.

Defeating no. 3 GW-Danville in game one, 72-58, was a task unto itself. Next up was Pulaski, which was the region two seed and was already in with a bye over no. 7 Jefferson Forest.

It would take Halifax five overtimes, a region tournament playoff record, to take down Pulaski, 75-69.

The Comets’ ensuing trip to Blacksburg saw a sometimes weary team once again step up and deliver a knockout punch. This time, the 54-48 victory would springboard them back to the state tournament.

Although the offense has been there when needed for HCHS, it is the defense that has brought the team its victories.

In all three region wins, the Comets have gotten the first basket from forward Kevon Ferrell. It was no different in the Blacksburg game as Ferrell put the Comets out front on his first shot attempt.

From that point on, though, things moved slowly for the Comets. A Davon Jennings layup near the end of the first period posted the Comets to a one-point lead 9-8 to end the period.

The teams exchanged points to open the second period. Jennings drove down the lane to post a basket. Kameron Roberts started to get busy on offense for the Comets and nailed a deuce to put the Comets back out front, 16-15.

Coming off the bench, Jaden Waller helped Halifax beat back a steady Bruins effort. Roberts hit a key fade-away for a 24-19 Comet lead.

Blacksburg went on a 4-0 run to end the half with Halifax leading 24-23. After two three-hour road trips, one-way, in recent days, the Comets looked a little drained in the first half.

Coach Sterling Williams said the guys were somewhat slow in the first half. It affected the offense and defense.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Williams said. “We scored on our first possession but after that, in the first half, I didn’t think we were very patient on offense —took some quick shots.

“And then on the defensive end we had some missed assignments where the guys were able to get around us and get into the lane. In the second half we shored those things up. We were able to get the stops we needed and come away with the win.”

Ferrell began the third period with a three-pointer and a deuce to get the Comets out front, 29-23. Roberts drained a trey at the 3:35 mark to make the score 37-32, Halifax. Waller added two from the line.

“Kevon has knocked down the first shot of the last three games for us — every game in the regionals,” Williams said. “He started out the first half, first possession of the game making the shot, and even coming back in the second half starting us off with a made basket.

“He’s kind of the heart and soul of the team, the leader of the team — as he goes, we go. And Kameron, he kind of comes in and finishes the game for us.

“But we’ve had guys that have made big plays off the bench. Jaden Waller has made plays of the bench and then Nijay Ross has come in and made some big plays for us.”

Halifax led 38-34 as the final period started. Blacksburg hit a trey and then it was like the gym went cold with neither team really connecting on anything.

Tied at 38-38 Roberts drained the shot for a 40-38 lead; Waller added a trey. Though Blacksburg closed to 50-48, the Comets went on to the 54-48 win.

“That’s what it takes different guys stepping up, and they’ve been doing that game after game,” Williams said. “They not sitting on the bench sulking about their playing time.

“They’re into the games. They are locked in and when their number is called they are coming in and contributing.”

As far the Wednesday night game with Region 4 C Champion John Handley (Northwestern District), it will be a test of the Comets’ stamina and will to win. Handley went 10-0 over the season and won its region championship 55-53 in the closing seconds of their game with Loudoun County.

Williams said they have scouted the team and have been preparing for the challenge.

“Tonight we have to do a good job of keeping their players out of the lane,” said Williams. “They like to drive the ball. They’ve got some playmakers on their team where if they can go one-on-one, they’re probably going to make the play.

“We have to do a really good job of not just guarding our man but guarding the basketball. When one of your teammates rotates, everybody has to be ready to rotate over to help them.

“We’ve seen some film on them that they’ve got some players that can really pat the rock and get in the lane and make some plays for teammates so we can’t let them go one-on-one against us. We have to have another person there ready to help out and when the second person helps the third person has to help the helper.

“So that’s kind of what we’ve been working on the past couple days; the helper and rotating when teammates are ready to rotate.”

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