"Good ball game at the Underwood gym tonight," said Hillcrest Coach Gregg Preston after his team shot a season low 38% and lost the rebound battle in Underwood. Even scoring buoyed Hilllcrest as Comet sharp-shooter Tommy Thompson emerged with late-game heroics to give Hillcrest the 65-55 win.
Comet alumnus Jesse Arbuckle shot his Rocket team in the arm as they emerged from the locker room to start the game. Falling down 18 in the first half, the Rockets battled the entire night against a traditionally sharp-shooting Comet team. Arbuckle watched leaders Adam Thormodson and Jarrett Werner post 15 points a piece. Thormodson proved difficult for the Comets to handle, posting a double-double with 15 rebounds to match his 15 points.
Hillcrest clearly came to play in the first half. They jumped out to a lead and kept Underwood at arms length for most of the night despite poor shooting. Chris Tungseth, the player Hillcrest turns to when the game is within reach, was off for most of the night. He left the court with 15 points on 6/16 (38%) shooting.
With Tungseth struggling from the floor Hillcrest saw the 2017 seniors step-up. Kyler Newman has played in Tungseth's shadow for most of the season. The two provide a powerful one-two setup for Hillcrest. Tungseth plays with aggression, streaking through the court with purposed steps as he punishes the ball in his dribbling. Newman plays with cat-like agility and provides a smooth guard alternative to Tungseth's punishing play, keeping teams off-balanced on the perimeter. Newman was essential for the Comets on Thursday night, his catlike play saw him streak through the lane and march down the court to the beat of 11 points and 5 rebounds. Preston said Newman's play in the lane was a difference maker for Hillcrest.
The balanced play of Hillcrest is something Preston is looking for as his team begins the march to playoffs. While Newman and Tungseth dart to the rim with quick steps and pull-up jumpers, Tommy Thompson is seen setting his feet in preparation for a pass. Thompson kept the Rockets off-balance with his perimeter spot-up. He hit 50% of his shots, pulling out 16 points and 4 defensive rebounds in spite of a poor night shooting behind the arc (1 for 6).
Hillcrest's perimeter shooting was cold. The normally hot-shooting Comets only hit 6 of 26 shots from the three-point line. Junior Sean McGuire casted 8 of his own shots behind the arc as Underwood pulled their defense off the small forward as he stood on the perimeter. McGuire knocked down 3 of his 8 shots, earning 14 points for the night in what proved to be a hard-fought battle.
In the waning minutes Underwood put together a scoring push. They cut an 18 point deficit to 4 points. Junior Tommy Thompson took over, knocking down a critical three-pointer and hitting a pair of clutch freethrows to put the game on the shelf with Underwood focused on Tungseth, Newman, and McGuire.
Hillcrest steps to 14-0 on the season with the win. Fans saw a disciplined Comet team Thursday night as Preston focuses on fundamental aspects of the team's offensive and defensive play. Preston's work is creating a precision team as the Comets continue to play each game to improve in specific aspects of their game. Thursday night revealed a team that, normally would be built around one dominant player, as a group of young men who are all stepping in to play their roles and provide points where necessary. The Comets look forward to Breckenridge in a home battle Tuesday night at 7:30pm.