Poor-shooting first half dooms 'Horns in 3A first round
By BRETT MARSHALL
By BRETT MARSHALL
HUTCHINSON — This is not a misprint.
Holcomb's Longhorns made nine 3-point field goals, cashed in 17 of 22 free throws and committed just 11 turnovers in their opening round game of the Class 3A state basketball tournament at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
But those numbers didn't really work when you consider the numbers of Nemaha Valley's Raiders.
Here was the important number: Nemaha Valley was 39-for-44 free-throw shooting for the day.
That number played a major role in the Longhorns coming up short in a 76-66 loss that brought an end to a superb season for the Great West Activities Conference champions, and to the playing career of Heath Tucker, who had a team-high 21 points, including 11-of-13 free throws.
But just as important was the frigid cold shooting of the Longhorns in the first half, especially the first quarter, that forced them into playing catch up the entire second half.
A 2-for-10 shooting performance in the opening period put them in an 11-4 hole that eventually grew to 29-15 before ending at 30-18 at the intermission.
The Longhorns were just 5-of-21 shooting in that half, a chilly 23.8 percent.
"I think the nerves got the better of us early," head coach Chad Novack said of his Longhorns. "For some reason, we just couldn't get things going. And then we didn't stop their two best players. I don't know whether it was the stage, but you can't have the mental breakdowns against a good team."
At halftime, Novack said he told his team that despite playing one of the worst halves of the season, it was not out of the game.
"All we could do was get better," Novack said. "If we played our game and played to our potential, we're a good team. I thought the kids did a good job of working their tails off, and playing their hearts out in the second half."
With the long-range missile attack in full mode behind the arc, the 3-point barrage began the long way back for the Longhorns. With five of them going down in the third quarter, the deficit was reduced to nine, 48-39, when the third quarter came to an end.
Nemaha Valley hit a bucket with 53 seconds to go in the third quarter and it would be seven minutes before the Raiders' next field goal. In between, the Raiders made 17 free throws as the parade to the line continued. Nemaha was so hot that the Raiders cashed in their final 24 free throws. The 39 of 44 checked out at 88.6 percent.
When Conner VanCleave hit the 'Horns' second trey of the fourth quarter, they were within 50-47 and right back in it.
"I really thought we were right where we wanted to be and had the momentum," Novack said. "We just couldn't get any stops and keep them off the line."
Caleb Meyer and Justice McKernan, the Raiders' two leading scorers, did the bulk of the damage with 31 and 17 points, including going a combined 28 of 32 at the stripe.
"They did exactly what we thought," Novack said. "There was nothing surprising. When you're shooting free throws in what seemed like every trip down the floor, it's hard to get into a flow. And we're a transition team, and that makes it tough."
Trey Sleep, who scored eight of his 12 points in the first half, led the Longhorns with six rebounds as Nemaha also won that battle, 31-22. Meyer, Isaac McWilliams and Abe Elder grabbed seven boards each.
Christian Merz, who nailed three 3-pointers, was the only other double-figure scorer with 10 points.
The Longhorns finish the campaign at 20-4, while Nemaha moves into the Friday semifinals against Beloit.
In the day's opening game, Wellsville took an early big lead and then watched as the Beloit Trojans rallied from 15 points down to take a 52-46 victory.
Holcomb 4 14 21 27 -- 66
Nemaha Valley 11 19 18 28 -- 76
Holcomb (20-4) — Mongeau 0-1 0-1 0, Gottschalk 3-10 1-2 9, Tucker 4-10 11-13 21, Sleep 6-0 0-0 12, Rupp 1-3 0-0 3, Stegman 1-1 0-0 2, Richmeier 0-3 0-0 0, Merz 3-7 1-2 10, VanCleave 2-7 4-4 9. Totals 20-51 17-22 66.
Nemaha Valley (22-2) — Rottinghaus 1-1 2-2 4, Henry 1-3 4-4 6, Meyer 7-9 17-20 31, McWilliams 3-5 2-2 9, Hermesch 1-5 0-0 2, Sperfslage 0-0 1-2 1, McKernan 3-8 11-12 17, Elder 2-2 2-2 6. Totals 18-32 39-44 76.
3-point goals--Holcomb 9-25 (Mongeau 0-1, Gottschalk 2-5, Tucker 2-4, Sleep 0-1, Rupp 1-2, Richmeier 0-2, Merz 3-6, VanCleave 1-4), Nemaha Valley 1-5 (Henry 0-2, McWilliams 1-2, McKernan 0-1). Rebounds--Holcomb 22 (Sleep 6), Nemaha Valley 31 (Meyer 7, McWilliams 7, Elder 7). Turnovers--Holcomb 11, Nemaha Valley 15. Fouls--Holcomb 31, Nemaha Valley 18. Fouled out--Holcomb (Tucker, Merz, VanCleave), Nemaha Valley (McWilliams). Technical fouls--none.