PEORIA – Now that’s the Newman Comets the Sauk Valley has seen all season.
After a frustrating loss in Friday’s Class 1A boys basketball state semifinals, the Comets bounced back nicely in Saturday’s third-place game. They crashed the boards, played with intensity and urgency, and sped up the tempo more to their liking in a 65-50 win over Goreville.
“For sure, we wanted to come out and play our game like we’re used to,” senior forward Travis Williams said. “Especially after the loss, we couldn’t get our minds off of it the whole rest of the day [Friday]. We knew that only two teams Class 1A end with a win, and we wanted one of those to be us. That really drove us as well.”
Williams and classmates Gehrig Koerner and Cade Gorzny set the tone early on. Williams banked in a 3-pointer for a 5-0 lead 1:40 into the game, then Koerner hit back-to-back 3s from the same spot in the left corner as part of a 13-2 run for a lead the Comets (29-5) would never relinquish. Williams capped the surge with another 3 from the right wing, and added a pair of free throws for an 18-6 lead with 9.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We just tried to run more, just fast break and play our up-tempo game,” Gorzny said. “We’re better at a fast pace than slowing it down, so we just tried to get the ball up court. Gehrig and Travis hit a couple 3s, so that really helped us out.”
“Those early 3s changed our game plan a lot,” Goreville coach Todd Tripp said. “We knew those guys could shoot, but we wanted to make them prove it – it’s harder to shoot up here – and they proved it. You’ve kind of got to pick your poison to start off with, and credit to their kids for hitting shots and playing well.”
Gorzny opened the second quarter with a 3 to make it 21-8, and Newman led by double digits for all but 1 minute of the rest of the game.
Up 23-12 less than 2 minutes into the second period, the Comets used another surge to take complete control. Devon House hit from inside, Gorzny nailed another 3, and House and Williams scored again in the paint – Williams twice – for an 11-4 run to take a 34-16 lead with 2:35 left in the first half.
“We had the advantage inside, and we just kept working hard, pounding it in there,” said Williams, one of two Comets with a double-double. “When our inside game’s working, that opens up our outside shooters – and that worked both ways for us.”
A flurry of fouls in the third quarter – Newman was whistled for nine and Goreville (23-13) for just two – made things interesting, but only briefly. After six straight free throws for the Blackcats brought them within 47-40, Gorzny popped a 3 off a turnover and Jake Terveer added a putback – both in the last 46 seconds of the quarter – to make it 52-40 Comets heading into the final 8 minutes.
“It goes from 7 to 12 like that,” Tripp said, snapping his fingers, “and that’s a back-breaker right there. They hit a long 3 at the buzzer at the end [of the first half], then hit a 3 and take our turnover and score off of it to end the third. Those are huge plays in the game.”
Newman closed it out strong, going on another run – this one a 9-2 spurt over a 3:14 span in the middle of the fourth – to set up some final substitutions. Newman coach Ray Sharp subbed out Koerner, Williams and Gorzny one at a time so they could each receive a standing ovation from the Comet fans, and put in senior Drake Farster for the final 2:34 of his high school career.
“I thought we had good urgency, played with a lot more energy and intensity, and our focus was really good,” Sharp said. “That set the tone for us for the rest of the game, and I thought our kids did a nice job of recognizing whatever they did defensively and executing what we wanted on offense.
“We got loose balls, we got rebounds, and we ran our break better. We got the ball out, we had a better outlet, we ran the floor harder, and we made shots. Let’s face it: the game’s a lot easier when the ball’s going through the basket.”
To illustrate his point: Newman shot 40 percent from the field (24-for-60, including 9-for-27 from 3-point range) while limiting Goreville to 30 percent (15-for-50, including 2-for-16 from long range), and outrebounded the Blackcats 48-32 – including 18-8 on the offensive glass.
Williams closed his career with game highs of 20 points, 13 rebounds and two steals, and House added a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 rebounds while playing most of the second half in foul trouble. Gorzny had 15 points and seven rebounds, Koerner scored eight points, and Terveer chipped in seven points and five boards. Brycen Bartel dished five assists.
“All postseason, you never know when your last game might be,” Williams said. “We were blessed to know it was our last game, and we just wanted to leave it all the floor, play as hard as we could for as long as we could, and shoot the ball and defend better. Luckily, that happened.”
The Comets tied the
single-season record for wins with 29, and closed the season with 12 wins in their last 13 games.
“We knew there was still some stuff in front of us – like tying the wins record – and third place is better than fourth place,” Sharp added. “Normally after you play a poor game in the playoffs, you don’t get a chance to redeem yourself and feel better about yourself; that usually doesn’t happen. We were fortunate enough to have that opportunity, especially for the seniors that are leaving the program, to have a chance to win that last game and redeem themselves, play a better game and finish on the high note, and we did a great job taking advantage of that opportunity. I thought we did a nice job of recovering physically and mentally to get ready for this game. I think the mental part is as tough as the physical part, that’s for sure, after a devastating loss [Friday].
“But we’re real happy and proud of these guys. This is the team that got us to state, this is the team that got us third place in state, and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Peyton Massey led Gore-ville with 11 points, and Cole Tosh added 10 points and seven rebounds. First-team all-stater Braden Webb played through a stomach illness and finished with eight points – on 2-for-15 shooting, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range – and five assists. Tanner Dunn chipped in six points and seven rebounds for the Blackcats.
Class 1A state third-place game
Newman 65, Goreville 50
Star of the game: Travis Williams, Newman, 20 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals
Key performers: Devon House, Newman, 11 points, 10 rebounds; Cade Gorzny, Newman, 15 points, 7 rebounds; Peyton Massey, Goreville, 11 points, 3 rebounds; Cole Tosh, Goreville, 10 points, 7 rebounds