The Halifax County High School boys basketball team is headed back to the state tournament after a 54-48 win over Blacksburg High School on Sunday afternoon. It will be the third straight trip to the state tournament, but the players are looking for a state championship this time.
After the game the Comets players briefly celebrated on the court and headed into the locker room to get ready for the trip home. Head coach Sterling Williams said his players discussed whether they would cut the nets down to celebrate the win.
“When we came up here they asked after the game if they were cutting down the nets, they thought about it and said they weren’t cutting down the nets, the only nets. They wanted to cut down were the ones after winning the state championship,” Williams said.
The Comets are now two wins away from that goal, with a Wednesday evening matchup with the John Handley Judges from Winchester up first. It is the state semifinal game, and the Comets will host the Judges after having to travel for all three of their regional tournament games.
Halifax got off to a much better start than they did in their semifinal game against Pulaski. They led the Bruins 9-8 after one quarter of play. Senior Kevon Ferrell started the game like he has every regional game, with a three-pointer from the corner.
The second quarter was much of the same, with both teams hitting shots and playing good defense and neither team getting out to a big lead. At the half the Comets lead 24-23.
Williams was happy for his team and excited to get back to the state tournament, but as a coach he saw plenty of things on Sunday that he wants his team to improve on headed to the state semifinals.
“Looking at them (Blacksburg) on film it looked like we could find our spots, but they packed it in on defense. They made us shoot those contested three’s and jump shots, but when we were able to get the ball down low into the short corner and the high post, we were able to make some things happen, and I think that is what we have to take away from this game because to be honest we will probably see the zone again at some point,” Williams said.
The Comets have seen their opponents play zone defense throughout the regional tournament in hopes of slowing them down. Halifax has used a variety of offensive sets and motions to get the ball down low and get the high quality shots Williams likes to see from his team.
Handley’s regional championship game against Loudoun County was an up and down game with a lot of man-to-man defense, but expect the Judges to come out on Wednesday in the same defense that other teams have against the Comets.
Pulaski’s head coach said after their game against Halifax that they wanted to slow the game down and didn’t want to run with the Comets.
Williams has gotten crucial points and minutes from players off of the bench throughout the regional tournament. Sunday was no different with several players making crucial plays off of the bench.
“It takes all 15 guys. I tell them all the time that their playing time is not equivalent to what they are worth to this team and they have to be ready to go when their opportunity is called,” Williams said about players coming off of the bench to contribute in crucial situations.
“Luckily I have guys that are dogs and when their number is called, they come out and play and come out and give it their all.”
Ferrell opened up the second half with another triple to give the Comets some breathing room, but Blacksburg was not about to let the Comets run away with the regional title. A three-pointer by the Bruins Brooklyn Vick brought Blacksburg to within four as the third quarter expired.
The fourth quarter started slowly for both teams, but the Bruins scored the first four points of the quarter to tie the game at 38. Sophomore Kameron Roberts and senior Jaden Waller then hit a layup and three-pointer to give the Comets a five point lead at 44-38. The Comets lead the Bruins 50-44 with 39 seconds to go when Matthew Joyce hit a long three-pointer to get the Bruins to within three points. Roberts hit a streaking Nasir Word who scored an easy lay up to seal the game for Halifax. Waller hit a lay up as time expired and the Comets won 54-48.
“Hats off to my guys,” Williams said after the game. “Through all of the adversity, starting on the 14th of December, going for about two weeks and then having to stop for almost a month, and coming back to practice, playing two games and then starting the regionals and then regionals is a big accomplishment for a team. But the way we have done it, with the adversity we have faced, shows you their character and what they are about as a team,” he added.
With Williams and his staff heading to their third straight state tournament, his team isn’t satisfied with just making it to the tournament.
“They (Halifax) have really bought into it. It is a great accomplishment, and it is something we wanted to do, and had to do to get here, but it wasn’t our end goal. It wasn’t what we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year, and I think that is what is going to keep them hungry and keep them humble,” he said about his team not settling for just making it to the state tournament.
Williams said they were going to use their practice time to hone in on the defense and walk through some things so they can get their legs back under them after a tough three game stretch.
When asked about John Handley coming into Halifax on Wednesday evening, Williams said he has already watched some tape on them and will continue to up until game time, but he knows that his team needs to stay focused on their tasks and take care of what they can control.
“It is just about being ready and taking care of what we can control and all the other stuff we can’t worry about. We have to worry about what we can control, when we do things like that, when you handle yourself like that usually good things happen.”
Matthew Joyce- 16
Brooklyn Vick- 12
Owen Walters- 7
Alexander Trexell- 7
Keegan Appea- 4
Brock Duma- 2