A new Comet team stepped on the court Thursday night, and it was impressive. Following an incredible hallmark game Tuesday night, the Comets hustled to practice Wednesday to improve some fundamental aspects of their game. The drills in practice carried through to Thursday night as the Comets out shot and displayed a stifling man-to-man defense that earned a 74-56 win.
The Comets stumbled on their heels in the opening minutes Thursday. Hancock displayed a shooting prowess that the Comets haven't seen much this year. With hands in their faces and fundamental boxing-out, Hancock hit 16 of their opening 26 shots taken in the first 18 minutes.
With Hancock on point, Hillcrest took to a traditional approach for them this year. The approach is new for Preston-backed teams, but has worked for the Comets, until Thursday night. Hillcrest started shooting and slashing through the lane. But Hancock anticipated the Comet's push offensively and crowded the lane. Collapsing their defense, Hancock blocked 3 shots in the opening minutes, causing Hillcrest to regroup.
The Comets set back to work by holding Hancock down on defense, stringing out offensive series with two-to-three ball reversals each time they entered half-court offense. Crisp Comet passing, with darts into the lane forcing Hancock to collapse, opened shots on the perimeter. Hillcrest took advantage.
Tommy Thompson had his feet set all night. He shot 80% from behind the arc, making 4-of-5 threes while dishing 4 assists as he tallied 12 points on the night. Thompson received a number of his setup passes from Chris Tungseth. Tungseth's lane penetration caused Hancock to set their defense inside the arc, as he visited the free throw line 6 times, hitting on all attempts. His only two baskets on the night came from three-point territory, giving Chris 12 points in an important game for the team.
As Hancock looked to shut-down Tungseth, deflecting his shots in the lane with a foul, block, or tipped dribble, they failed to account for the other Comets. Waiting in the wings, were Kyler Newman and Sean McGuire. The two combined for 40 points with dazzling shooting.
McGuire tends to assert his presence in the post. He drew a charge in the first half, working his way out of the block on the offensive side. He shot 100% of his shots behind the arc (5-for-5), and was 3-for-4 around the lane. McGuire's hot shooting lifted the Comets as Hancock keyed on Tungseth. Providing 23 points and 6 rebounds, McGuire found Hancock shift attention to his hot hand. In turn, he started passing the ball off when the Owls closed down on him. His 6 assists led the team, setting up fellow Junior Kyler Newman.
Newman found open spots on the court as the Owls scrambled to cover the scoring Comets. In a virtual game of hot potato, Hillcrest put 4 players into double digits. Newman, shifting his feet and setting up his shot, reacted to the Owls focus on Thompson, Tungseth, and McGuire. He dropped in 17 points for the Comets, making 3-of-5 three pointers, part of Hillcrest's march to a 65% shooting percentage (15-of-23) behind the arc.
The Comets found a new way to win Thursday. They shot an uncharacteristically low 33% from inside the three-point line. Making a simple 10 of 30 shots inside the line, Hillcrest found better success 19 feet 9 inches from the hoop. The Comets made 15 of 23 shots from the distance that put 3 points on the board.
In the closing minutes, Hancock was 10 points down. The Comets went to a stifling man-to-man defense, something that kept Hancock at bay throughout the second half. Hillcrest jumped on opportunities to provide more distance in the closing minutes, scoring 12 points while Hancock could only muster a couple of baskets.
The Comets look forward to another defensive test against Oak Grove in a guys/girls double header Saturday. The game is Livestreamed on Hillcrest's website.