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Franklin County holds off Comets

South Boston News
Evin Morrison and FCHS’ Josh Blankenship (33) battle for possession of the ball Tuesday night. (David Conner II photo) / January 17, 2013
Halifax County High School boys’ varsity basketball could not build on its recent Heritage win, as lackluster Comet defense created the oppotunity for visiting Franklin County to hold off the Comets, 80-75, Tuesday night.

HCHS is now 7-9 and 0-4 in the Western Valley district. HCHS has a very tough assignment Friday, as the Comets head to GW-Danville to begin the second round of district play.

The HCHS boys are trying to avoid a dreaded winless finish in the district, which has not happened in the modern history of the program, since the 1970s. Halifax is also seeking to battle to at least a fourth place finish in the district, which would ensure a spot in the final Western Valley district tournament. The fifth place team in the WVD stays home.

HCHS had showcased a strong defensive effort in a recent tough loss to PH-Roanoke, but the Comets simply could not contain Franklin County, which had 23 points in the third period and 25 in the final period.

And even with this feeble defensive effort, the Comets had a shot to win, or force overtime, in the end.

With the win, Franklin County improved to 1-3 in the district and 13-4 overall. Three Eagles did the most damage, as Josh Blankenship blistered the Comets for 28 points. Ray Witcher followed with 21, and Ethan Adams had 15.

HCHS finished with four players in double figures.

Evin Morrison, despite consistent foul trouble, had one of his best games this season and finished with 16 points. Tavion Petty also had 16, and James Burden finished with 15.

Keyshawn Johnson had 11. Kevon Tucker also had foul problems and had seven. Halifax had just eight turnovers, showing major improvement there. The Comets forced 14 FCHS turnovers, but struggled beyond the arc, connecting on only 5-of-17 three-pointers. HCHS hit 11 of 13 free throws through the first three periods, but went three-for-ten in the final period.

Even with all these issues, the Comets almost pulled out their first WVD win of the season.

The game remained extremely competitive almost all night, and FCHS led by one, 55-54, heading into the final period.

Morrison, who had a strong night rebounding, scoring and playing defense for HCHS, had to leave with his fourth foul with 4:57 left in the third period. But the Comets still found a way to battle against the Eagles, as Burden had a well-executed tip-in at the end of the third period to bring HCHS back within one.

Blankenship started the final period with a 3-pointer, for a 58-54 Eagle lead.

HCHS kept it close, with Burden completing a three-point play with 5:37 left to make this a two-point game.

A powerful move by Halifax’s Trelanne Johnson tied it at 61. But Clements connected on his only three-pointer of the game, and FCHS led, 64-61, with less than five minutes remaining.

Blankenship continued to provide critical offense, scoring later to make it 66-63, Franklin County. Blankenship had a terrific game and scored seven points in the fourth period alone.

With the Eagles nursing a one-possession lead, the Eagles continued to make their offense click, getting two key free throws from Adams with 1:48 left, extending the FCHS lead to 73-65. But Halifax refused to buckle, getting a 3-pointer from Petty with 1:37 left.

Halifax trailed, 76-68, with 1:08 remaining, but, still had flickering hope to pull out the win.

Witcher made two free throws after a Comet foul, extending the Eagle lead to ten, 78-68, with 1:04 remaining.

K. Johnson connected to make it an eight-point game. Burden had a steal and connected to cut the Eagle lead to six.

Morrison finally fouled out with 19.7 seconds left, but Clements hit two important free throws here to extend the Eagle lead to 80-72.

K. Johnson drained a 3-pointer with 13.7 seconds left, bringing HCHS within five.

The Comets got possession again with 11.1 seconds left, after an Eagle turnover. With 5.2 seconds left, a Comet shot failed. T. Johnson got fouled, as Adams finally fouled out for the Eagles, but the Comet guard couldn’t bring Halifax any closer. Another late three-point attempt went awry, and HCHS was done, down five at the end.

FCHS finished with nine 3-pointers. The Eagles were solid at the foul line, finishing 19-for-28 there. FCHS clicked at the line in the final period, hitting 13-of-16 from the line.

3-WAY TIE: There is now a three-way tie for boys’ basketball supremacy in the WVD regular season race. Fleming beat PH Tuesday night at PH. Now, GW-Danville, Fleming and PH are all 3-1 in the district.

Comets still searching for first WVD win

Could this the same Halifax County High School boys’ basketball team that just limited Patrick Henry-Roanoke to 54 points a week ago, on the road, no less?

The Comets, still winless in the WVD, certainly had a shot at defeating Franklin County Tuesday night. The Comets outscored the Eagles, 22-17, in the second period and led 36-32 at the half.

Tavion Petty sank a three-pointer early in the third period, giving HCHS a 39-34 lead.

From there, Halifax got outscored consistently, surrendering 46 points in 15 minutes, starting with a three-point play engineered by the Eagles’ Josh Blankenship, who finished with a game-high 28 points.

“The whole problem tonight was defensive end. We just did not guard. That was the second most points we’ve given up all year. ... We just made them really, really good on offense,” coach Larry Epperly said.

Epperly said the Comets never really got a handle on proper recognition of FCHS’ hot hand, held particularly well by Blankenship.

“I had to take a time out to tell them 33 (Blankenship) was a good 3-point shooter. They couldn’t figure it out. So (defensive) recognition’s a real problem,” said Epperly.

But to their credit, the Comets kept battling. Evin Morrison had a strong outing, defending, rebounding and scoring. Morrison had a solid game and did everything, “made hustle plays, got rebounds, got points,” Epperly said.

“It’s a team game. You’ve got to have everybody playing.”

HCHS also had to switch out of its customary zone to man-to-man, a sure sign of trouble. The switch came at the start of the final period.

“We just wouldn’t guard in our zone defense. We were just flat, no pressure on the ball, no slides, we just didn’t get the effort,” said Epperly, who doesn’t normally want to make the switch to man.

Halifax came close to pulling off a comeback in the final minute, but it was not to be.

“When you’re desperate, you just have to play fast and drive it to the rim. We were in the bonus and we were able to make a couple of plays, but we couldn’t make our free throws,” said Epperly.

GW next: This is a tough matchup and the Silver Eagles are tough at home.

“It’s a small gym, it’s a tough place to play, and they get the crowd going. They’re one of the most athletic teams we’ve seen all year,” said Epperly.

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