By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB — With both teams 4-1, the final game of the year for Southwestern Heights and Holcomb seemed ripe for an exciting contest.
The fans got that and more, as Holcomb overcame an uncharacteristic first half and took care of business in defeating the visiting Mustangs 64-51.
For the Longhorns, it was finding another way to win that made the difference, to improve to 5-1.
Pushed around by a more physical Mustang squad in the first half, the Longhorns found themselves missing shots and getting out-hustled on the boards.
With point guard Tyler LaSalle sitting out with two fouls the final 10 minutes, Holcomb still managed a 22-17 lead midway into the second quarter — and never scored again that half.
Seven straight turnovers led to nine Heights points and a 26-22 halftime lead for the Mustangs.
Things could have been worse, as the Mustangs were just 2-for-10 at the free throw line.
Second half, it was a much different story.
Holcomb outscored the Mustangs 15-6 in the third period and took a 37-32 lead at the final break.
Blake Richmeier and Jeremy Cox hit a three each, and Aaron Hernandez twice turned offensive rebounds into scores, as Holcomb went up 47-38.
The Longhorns' final field goal of the night was a 3-pointer from LaSalle — one of three on the night for him — as Holcomb shot free throws the rest of the way, 19 of them in the final 2:49, converting on 14.
Heights was forced to shoot and foul to try to stay in the game, but the team that had been so on in the first half couldn't make it happen in the second, shooting just 7-for-22 and grabbing only eight boards in that stretch.
Not a pretty win, but a good one, over a tough Heights team, Holcomb coach Chad Novack said.
With Cox and LaSalle in foul trouble in the first half, Novack had to rely on a younger group to step in and run the guard positions, and try to contain an aggressive Mustang offense.
"We just weren't aggressive that first half. We didn't crash the boards like we're capable of, and the biggest disappointment was we didn't block out," he said. "We gave them too many second-chance shots."
The second-quarter team, without LaSalle and Cox, committed 10 turnovers. The 'Horns committed nine in the other three quarters combined.
Novack said he felt fortunate to be down only four at the break, and the real Holcomb team came out ready. The squad blocked out better, played with more intensity and did the things they work on in practice, including nailing free throws.
Holcomb was just 1-of-2 from the line in the first half but finished the game 19-of-27, including 12 in a row to end the game.
"We preach every day that (free throws) are game winners, and tonight those turned up big for us," he said. "They stood in there with confidence."
Second-half execution of the offense and blocking out better were the keys to the win, Novack said.
Now 5-1, Holcomb is ahead of last year (a 2-4 start), and Novack said it's a sign of the dedication the team has put in over that time.
Now with a holiday break coming up, he hopes the time will help some players heal and get back with the team, including Clay Gilbert and Corey Roth, as well as Max Ramsey, who didn't play Tuesday.
Sophomore Trey Sleep came off the bench and filled some of the inside gaps, scoring five points and grabbing five boards.
Cox led all scorers with 14 points, and LaSalle and Richmeier added 13 for Holcomb.
Heights was led by Trevor Lee with 12 points, but Clayton Chase, who averages nearly 17 a game, was held to 11.
Despite the win, Novack said his team is still inconsistent, as seen by the two different halves.
"If we want to be a team that makes it deep in the playoffs, we have to be a team that plays for all four quarters. We have the potential to be a very good club, but we have to play all four quarters," he said.
SW Heights 12 14 6 19 -- 51
Holcomb 14 8 15 27 -- 64
Southwestern Heights (51) — Herrera 2 0-0 4, BJohnsrud 4 2-5 1-, Lee 3 5-6 12, Martinez 1 0-4 2, Chase 5 1-2 11, Loya 4 1-2 10. Totals 20 9-19 51.
Holcomb (64) — LaSalle 5 0-3 13, Hernandez 4 1-2 9, Cox 3 6-8 14, Rupp 1 0-0 2, Richmeier 3 5-6 13, Bennett 1 6-6 8, Sleep 2 1-2 5. Totals 19 19-27 64.
3-pt. goals — SWH 2 (Lee, Loya), Holcomb 7 (LaSalle 3, Cox 2, Richmeier 2). Rebounds — SWH 20 (Delatorre 5, Chase 5), Holcomb 29 (Hernandez 9, Bennett 7). Turnovers — SHW 13, Holcomb 19. Fouled out — SWH (Chase). Total fouls — SWH 22, Holcomb 17.