By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLCOMB — In the wake of his team's performance last week at the Scott City Invitational, Holcomb Longhorns boys basketball coach Scott Stegman was looking for a new lease on life for his team.
Perhaps he found it Tuesday night when the Longhorns utilized a strong second-half performance to register a 58-46 victory over the Hugoton Eagles in the opening game of the Great West Activities Conference for both teams.
"Any kind of a win right now is good," said Stegman, whose team is now 2-3 overall, and 1-0 in the GWAC. "We'll take this and try to get things rolling."
Stegman had been entreating his team to slow down and take care of the ball on offense. They heeded his call as the Longhorns only turned the ball over 11 times.
"I thought we did take our time better on offense tonight," Stegman said. "We were more under control and I thought the guards stepped up and made some big baskets for us."
That would be seniors Brady Merz and Kyle Walck, and sophomore Tyler LaSalle, who combined for 43 of the team's total.
While LaSalle led the way with 17 points (8-of-11 at the free throw line), it was Merz who kept the Longhorns within range of the hot-shooting Eagles in the first half.
The 5-8 Merz, who transferred a year ago from Satanta, had 11 of his 13 points in the first half.
"It was probably the best I've played," Merz said. "Tonight, I think we worked hard to slow it down like coach wants and we were, I was, more under control. I think we were able to see the opportunities to drive and if nothing was there, pull it out. I thought we hustled a lot more tonight, too."
Hugoton rode the hot hand of James Persinger to a 29-26 halftime lead. The 6-3 junior had 14 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as the Eagles blistered the nets to the tune of 14-of-25 shots (56 percent). In the second half, the Eagles could muster only 8-of-28 (28.5 percent).
"We just kind of let the game get away from us," Hugoton coach Jason Hajek said of the second half.
"We're just not very tough right now. When everything goes our way on offense, we're pretty good. But when it's not, it affects our defense. We've just got to get tougher."
It also did not help the Eagles that the more aggressive Longhorns went to the free throw line 29 times, making 16 of them.
Hajek's team, meanwhile, attempted just two charities, making one and that coming in the third quarter.
"I told the kids that (Holcomb) was going to come out with everything they had (in third quarter)," Hajek said. "We had a three point lead at the half and you need a killer instinct when you're in that position."
Holcomb went on an 11-2 run to start the third quarter to take a 37-31 lead only to have the Eagles close the gap to 37-36 before the Longhorns ended the period on a 4-0 run for a 41-36 advantage heading into the final period.
Holcomb extended its lead with a 7-2 start to the fourth and Hugoton could pull no closer than five points at 49-44. The Longhorns paraded to the free throw line over the final 3:20, making 9-of-14 at the stripe.
It was Persinger, though, that kept the Eagles within range. In addition to his game-high 21 points, the 6-3 junior pulled down 16 rebounds. Holcomb led the board battle 37-36 as Logan Singhisen and Andrew Homer pulled down eight each. The Eagles were guilty of 18 turnovers.
Holcomb closes out its pre-holiday schedule on Thursday night with a home game against rival Lakin while Hugoton travels on Friday to face Colby in a GWAC contest.
Hugoton 15 14 7 10 -- 46
Holcomb 15 11 15 17 -- 58
Hugoton (2-3) — Frederick 4-11 0-0 9, Jimenez 5-11 0-0 10, Morin 2-9 0-0 4, Crawford 0-0 0-0 0, Mora 0-0 0-0 0, Persinger 10-14 1-2 21, Heger 1-6 0-0 2, Beltz 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 1-2 46.
Holcomb (2-3) — Singhisen 2-9 2-4 6, Merz 5-11 0-0 13, LaSalle 4-12 8-11 17, Homer 2-4 1-4 5, Gaede 1-3 2-4 4, Walck 5-9 3-6 13, Cox 0-1 0-0 0, Bennett 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 19-52 16-29 58.
3-point goals — Hugoton 1-9 (Frederick 1-3, Jimenez 0-3, Morin 0-1, Heger 0-2), Holcomb 4-12 (Merz 3-6, LaSalle 1-5, Walck 0-1). Fouls — Hugoton 21, Holcomb 7. Fouled out — Hugoton (Frederick). Rebounds — Hugoton 36 (Persinger 16), Holcomb 37 (Singhisen 8, Homer 8). Turnovers — Hugoton 18, Holcomb 11.