Hillcrest jumped out to a 27-8 lead over the Norman County East-Ulen-Hitterdal (NCE/UH) Eagles Tuesday night. Strong defense and quick scoring opened the doors for Hillcrest to maintain their streak of beating teams by five buckets each night they walk on the court.
Hillcrest started the game in a classic fashion, with Kyler Newman soaring to tip the ball and the Comets scoring a quick bucket in the opening seconds. Hillcrest has not had a problem getting up for big games. Their December 10th game against then #10 Waubun made a statement statewide where a near 30 point victory was led by the Comets ability to set the tone early. Tuesday was much of the same.
Quick feet on the edge of the court forced the Eagles to make poor choices in the opening minutes. A time out early in the half had Hillcrest fans looking at the scoreboard and seeing a near 20 point lead. But NCE/UH is a section favorite for a reason. Strong physical play inside forced Hillcrest to redirect their game plan and allowed the Eagles an opportunity to bounce back from the deficit.
Midway through the first half the Eagles managed a series of buckets, working to keep pace with a Comet team that averages 79 points per game. Going into a lockout mode, the Eagles fought for dominance in the paint. Hillcrest turned to their skilled perimeter shooters, taking 25 shots behind the arc for the night. Chris Tungseth led the way, building good separation from NCE/UH defenders by jumping off screens and catching the ball ready to shoot. Tungseth casted 8 shots in three-point territory, connecting on half of them. He finished the night with a game high 30 points. The Comets went to the locker room with a comfortable 44-26 lead at the half.
The Eagles made key adjustments in the second half, starting more aggressive as the whistle blew to start the final minutes of 2015 basketball. An aggressive front forced Hillcrest to look elsewhere for shots they made in the first half. Hillcrest responded with a defensive front of their own. Clamping down on the perimeter, Hillcrest diverted the Eagles attempts, keeping the game from becoming an elbow-bashing lay-up contest. The Comets won the position game on the perimeter, forcing bad passes that were picked-up as turnovers. Hillcrest pulled together 10 steals as a team on the night.
The Eagles shifted their offensive game plan, looking to sit the Comets down by posting more shots. Their efforts led Hillcrest to the weak side of the basket, where white jerseys pulled down Eagles' shots, turning the ball up the court for Comet offensive series. Hillcrest dominated the glass on the night, pulling down 33 rebounds as a team, 22 on defense. Kyler Newman and Sean McGuire benefitted from boxing out and slashing to the glass. Newman is known to jump over defenders in a hungry attempt to control the ball after a shot. His 7 rebounds were second only to Tungseth, who posted a double-double effort for the Comets, 30 points and 12 rebounds.
Hillcrest turned the ball over 9 times in their first game after a two week break from the court. "We had a very nice start tonight," noted Comet Coach Gregg Preston in acknowledging the two week hiatus his team experienced before Tuesday's game. "We felt good about our team effort against a well-balanced, well-coached and physical NCE/UH team". The Comets close 2015 undefeated after a tough road win in Twin Valley, 66-50.
Hillcrest holds the only undefeated record in Section 6, after Battle Lake lost a series of games following their hot start to the season. The Comets play Ashby on January 5 before facing off against the section favorite Battle Lake Battlers on Friday, January 8 at 7:15pm in Hillcrest's Student Activities Center. The game will livestream at www.ffhillcrest.org/livestream.