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Defense sparks Comet win

South Boston News
Comet Keyshawn Johnson fires up a shot Friday night. (David Conner II photo) / December 23, 2013
There’s a lot to like about the 6-2 start for this Halifax County boys’ varsity basketball team.

The Comets put on the afterburners, sparked by defensive pressure, and routed Magna Vista, 79-55, on Friday night at home.

Then, in the third period, HCHS went on a 27-9 run, featuring lockdown defense and easy, high-percentage scoring opportunities.

“We’re playing so hard. The guys are really competing and playing so hard. We’re able to get some steals and convert them into easy baskets. And that really helps when you can get easy baskets,” said Comet coach Larry Epperly.

“Once again, we were able to go through their press and get some easy baskets. Nobody’s been able to press us yet, because Keyshawn (Johnson) is a good ballhandler. We get it to him, we’re usually in good shape,” said Epperly.

“The kids are just competing so hard. It covers us mistakes when you play so hard. “The guys enjoy playing together. The guys have a great spirit. There’s a good flow to the game right now,” he said.

HCHS rolled into the final period, leading 60-31, after Magna Vista got torched in the third period.

The Comets moved on to a rout of Roxboro Community School Saturday.

Although this Comet club lacks a big man to patrol the paint, HCHS has some major positives. The Comets have a deep, versatile lineup.

They’ve got solid 3-point shooting ability, although the Comets have to be careful of being too reliant on the ability to shoot treys. And the Comets have an athletic team with good team chemistry, showcasing the ability to badly disrupt opponents’ offensive flow.

Magna Vista certainly found out Friday.

HCHS finished with four players in double figures.

Tavion Petty led the way with 25 points, including five treys.

Petty said the third quarter run was very important. “We got it going, play good ‘D’. Just kept going on the breaks ... just finishing the plays,” said Petty. “We’ve got a lot of depth. If everybody settles on their role, we can be a good team, win this district and go far.”

Smith played well and had his highest scoring night to date, finishing with 17 points. Trelanne Johnson continues to do a number of things well - defensive positioning, overall hustle, rebounding, unselfish play, and scoring ability - and he finished with 13 points. Keyshawn Johnson hit two treys and had 11 points.

HCHS finished with nine 3-pointers, but the Comets also did a good job getting to the free throw line. Halifax connected on 22-of-31 at the foul line, with Smith seven for 12 and T. Johnson seven-for-seven.

HCHS improved to 3-1 in the Piedmont.

Both teams opened the eight-minute quarter by missing shots, and then Johnson struck from the wing for a 36-22 Comet lead. K. Johnson struck moments later for another 3-pointer, and HCHS led, 39-22, with 5:48 left.

K. Johnson felt he had a decent offensive effort, and he credited his teammates for their help.

T. Johnson had a layup off a steal. Seconds later, T. Johnson then pilfered another ball, setting up another Comet break. HCHS led, 43-22. Magna Vista did not get its first points of third until the 4:40 mark, and, by then, the Warriors were in serious trouble.

Petty sank another 3-pointer, and HCHS led, 46-25.

Moments later, K. Johnson pilfered the ball, feeding to T. Johnson for a breakaway and a 51-25 Comet lead. T. Johnson was fouled on the play, and he completed the 3-point play opporunity with a free throw. That completed the three-point play with 3:10 remaining.

Will Miller added a blocked shot and HCHS capitalized with a one-handed dunk by James Burden.

By then, the stunned Warriors had been dismissed, trailing 54-25. Magna Vista never recovered and HCHS sailed to an easy win.

“I felt we had a good (offensive) flow. We executed really well at times, particularly when (Magna Vista) went to the zone. We took the ball to one size, swung it back to the other side, got good shots. We closed out halftime on a positive.

“Keyshawn penetrated up there and kicked out. James made a 3, execution there was excellent. I liked us on offense,” said Epperly.

Shorlin McGuire led the visitors with 16 points. HCHS limited the Warriors to 11 field goals and six treys. Magna Vista went 15-of-32 from the foul line.

T. Johnson, meanwhile, has emerged as a valuable, high-energy glue guy - the kind of player who does a variety of tasks.

T. Johnson sat out two games - the two Comets losses - with an ankle sprain. Now, he’s feeling back into shape.

“I’m the energy of the team. I play defense. I rebound a whole lot. I look for the open man,” said T. Johnson, who also has shown offensive ability. Johnson also plays as the Comets’ tough man to scrap for loose balls and play defense.

HCHS did not shoot the 3 well in the two losses, but the Comets proved they can be really potent offensively when it’s clicking Friday night. Throw in lockdown defense, and you’ve got a very lethal combination. Magna Vista certainly will testify to that.

COMET NOTEBOOK: 6-4 inside guy Ricky Tucker had some nice moments at the end and finished with three-points, on one 3-point play. Tucker has size and is helping HCHS. He might be more of a factor down low later this season.

“We’ve got to get him in shape. He struggles in practice. He’s suffering from not having played last year,” said Epperly. “He played football. He missed all four workouts (all summer workouts). He’s just behind,” said Epperly.

Tucker is making a significant contribution behind the scenes in practice. “He’s helping us in practice, because he’s the other team’s big guy that we face. We have to double him and do some things that we need to do.

“He’s making a major contribution to this (Comet) team in terms of getting better. In practice, he is helping us,” said Epperly.

On Saturday, the varsity boys basketball team improved to 6-2 on the season after a rout of the Roxboro Community School.

HCHS cruised to an 81-61 win heading into the Christmas holiday break.

The next assignment for the Comets is the two-day Gazette-Virginian Holiday Classic, which begins Friday. HCHS starts with Gretna in the opener, and it’s possible the two-day event will end with another Person County-HCHS showdown. The Rockets get Park View in the other boys’ game.

HCHS reached its season high in scoring against the Roxboro private school at home.

Ten Comets got on the board, as versatile Trelanne Johnson and James Burden led the way for HCHS with 13 points apiece.

James Smith Jr. followed his career high on Friday with another solid performance Saturday, scoring 11 points. Keyshawn Johnson and Tavion Petty had nine apiece, and Quentin Jennings had eight.

HCHS outscored RCS 18-12 in the first period, and then the Comets really clicked in the second period, outscoring the visitors 23-8. HCHS drained 3 three-pointers in the period and sailed to a commanding 41-20 lead at halftime.

HCHS got 19 points in each of the final two periods.

The Comets, who have shown considerable prowess shooting the 3-pointer, drained six of them against RCS. K. Johnson had two treys.

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