Parkers Prairie plays big. Any drive into the lane or box-out attempt for a rebound is met with a barrage of beatings as the Panthers fight and claw in nearly every play. The Comets' fundamental approach to the game finds bumps and bruises in the midst of putting up big points against the Panthers. Tuesday night was more of the same for the Comets, rising above a two minute push by Parkers to retain the lead after an 18 point second half differential and win 82-76.
The first half was flashy for both teams. Parkers won the tip against Junior Colin Erickson, who started to bring more presence in the paint against a tough Panther lineup in the post. Erickson was joined by Sean McGuire as Hillcrest locked-down and closed out the Panther inside game. In response, the Panthers gave the green light to their perimeter players, who cast 3 pointers freely. Of the Panthers 35 first half points, 21 were attributed to their long range shooting behind the arc. Hillcrest had an answer.
For every failed entry the Panthers worked inside Hillcrest turned the ball to their offense and looked to Kyler Newman. Newman displayed patience and trust in Comet Coach Gregg Preston's system, allowing the offense to develop in the first half. With the Panthers shadowing Newman, Hillcrest's most prolific scorer this season, Tommy Thompson setup on the perimeter and answered Parkers shot-for-shot, hitting four three pointers in the first half.
Thompson's spot shooting inspired other Comets to exploit the Panthers' soft perimeter defense. Kyler Newman, Sam Isaac, and Daniel Preston combined for four three-pointers of their own, boasting 24 of Hillcrest's 40 points behind the arc in the first half.
Parkers adjusted their perimeter defense to keep the Comets from running away with the game through their lights-out shooting. As the Panthers worked to close-out on the perimeter Hillcrest worked the ball around the key, and watched as Kyler Newman heated up in finding seams in the Panther front. Newman posted 11 of his 31 points in the first half, gaining speed as the game wore on and Hillcrest entered half-time with a 40-35 lead.
The Comets came out of the locker room looking to lock-down their defense. After a failed attempt to start their offense, Sam Isaac shuffled his feet, aggressively sliding his body backward in anticipating the Panther attack. Hillcrest settled in and began a run that brought out an 18 point lead. The Panthers grew more aggressive as the game tarried.
Slight tugs on jerseys worked to slow Hillcrest's cuts as the Panthers showed fatigue. A swift arm shove down the front of his jersey freed Kyler Newman on a series of plays as he broke the nip-and-tuck defense from Parkers to catch, sweep, and make an off-speed dribble before slashing to the basket and carrying the Comet offense in exploiting the lingering footwork of the Panthers.
Newman broke out midway through the second half to the tune of 20 points. His quick steps and off balance shooting made it virtually impossible for the Panthers to slow the Comet roll.
With two minutes left the Panthers formed a charge and began barreling into the Comets. A charge taken by Senior Sean McGuire was the second in as many games. The Panther's point guard was called for a set of offensive fouls as he worked to create separation from the Hillcrest defense. The Panthers would not go quietly into the night.
With 20 seconds left Parkers was within six points and Hillcrest regrouped around Coach Preston in a Comet huddle on their bench. Preston's words were to settle down, take care with the ball, and bring the win into the locker room. Hillcrest did that, closing out a set of offensive series that killed time on the perimeter as Parkers chased the ball to foul. With the buzzer sound Hillcrest closed out a six point win in a game that grew grew into a battle for the Comets.
Newman led all scoring in bolstering the Comets in the second half, closing his stat sheet with 31 points. Tommy Thompson's work in the first half boosted Hillcrest in the locker room, putting together 19 points in his scoring column, going a perfect 4-for-4 at the free throw line. Sam Isaac hit big shots in key times for the Comets, scoring nine points on three pointers. Sean McGuire added support with a pair of buckets in the first and second half, ending the game with 8 points.
Hillcrest is now 3-0 on the season, traveling to Underwood Thursday for a conference game.