The Halifax County High School Comets are still searching for that elusive win in the state tournament after a heartbreaking 52-49 loss to the John Handley High School Judges on Wednesday evening at Halifax County High School.
Keshawn Wells hit a three-point shot at the buzzer at the end of regulation to tie the game for the Comets and send the game in overtime. But a shot at the buzzer in overtime to tie the game bounced off the side of the rim, and the Judges advanced to Saturday’s Virginia High School League Class 4 state championship game.
“They (Handley) came out hitting shots at the beginning and all through the game, and I felt like their second chance points is what got us. They rebounded the ball really well, and I think that if we finished the plays off on the defensive end it might be a different outcome,” head coach Sterling Williams said after the game.
It was a back and forth affair on Wednesday, as neither team was able to establish a lead more than six points. The Comets held a 13-11 lead after the first quarter, and extended their lead to six early in the second quarter. Handley responded with a 12-0 run to retake the lead and went into the half with a 12-2 run and a 23-19 lead.
Demitri Gardner led all scorers with 26 points in the game. He made several clutch shots to give Handley the lead or change momentum at the right time for his team.
The game of runs continued into the second half with both teams jumping out to leads and the other coming back. With 12 seconds remaining in the game, the Judges led 47-42. Kevon Ferrell was fouled and made two free throws to get the Comets within three points with 5.9 seconds to play.
Halifax fouled and sent Handley to the line for a one and one with 4.9 seconds left, and the Judges missed the first free throw. After a tip out of bounds by Handley, the Comets inbounded the ball on their end of the court, and Wells got open at the top of the key and hit a three pointer as the buzzer sounded to tie the game.
“They didn’t quit, that is one thing about them, and they didn’t give up. We were down five with 12 seconds to go maybe, and they put us into OT so the fight was there, it was just the execution that was missing,” Williams said about his team.
In overtime, Halifax took an early lead on a Ferrell put back. After a Gardner free throw, the Comets led 49-48 with 2:14 to play. The score remained the same until Gardner hit another three for Handley to give them a 51-49 lead. Another free throw extended the lead to 52-49 and as time expired Ferrell missed a three pointer that would have tied the game.
The Comets season ends again in heartbreak after a close battle in the state tournament. Handley took on Smithfield in the state title game on Saturday where Smithfield captured the Class 4 title 61-54.
Williams also talked after the game about the unique season that his team endured and how difficult it was. He said at the end of last season they knew they were going to return a bunch of guys, and he said he could see the look in guys like Ferrell and D.J. Jennings that they had a state title in mind.
“We were looking forward to the offseason and to spring and summer workouts because we knew how good that team could be. Then we weren’t able to workout until four times in November,” Williams said.
After those four workouts in November the team was then off until practice began in mid-December. The team then only had a week and a half of practice before they were put on pause again due to high COVID-19 numbers across the county.
The team sat out for almost a month and was then given notice on a Tuesday that they would play back-to-back games that Thursday and Friday. They got together for practice on Wednesday before playing GW the next two days. After two close losses, the Comets were then thrown into the regional tournament to face the same GW team they had just lost two games to.
The Comets were resilient though and rattled off three straight wins, all on the road, to capture the Region 4D championship. The second of the three games was a five-overtime thriller over Pulaski that is now in the VHSL record books as being tied for the longest playoff game in history.
The Comets season was one that never really felt like it got off of the ground, yet the players and coaches fought hard until the very last second and came away with a third regional championship in three years and another state tournament berth.
Jaden Waller 14
Kevon Ferrell 12
Kameron Roberts 9
Keshawn Wells 8
D.J. Jennings 4
Nasir Word 2
Demitri Gardner 26
Ke’mani Curry 12
Chaz Lattimore 6
Emerson Fusco 4
Stephen Daily 4