When Goodland and Holcomb boys tipped off Friday night’s Great West Activities Conference game in Goodland, the Cowboys were perfect at 6-0 while the Longhorns were right behind at 5-1.
But it didn’t take long to see which team was going to prevail, and the defending GWAC champion Longhorns once again established themselves as the team to beat in this year’s league race.
That came after the Longhorns dismantled the Cowboys, 63-45, and were never really threatened after opening up a 21-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“The kids executed well tonight on both ends of the floor,” Holcomb coach Chad Novack said afterward. “After the holiday break, sometimes you’re a little sluggish when you come back, but we had a lot of energy and that’s what a coach wants to see.”
The scoring pace slowed in the second and third periods for both teams, with the Longhorns owning advantages of 33-20 and 45-20, respectively.
And it was that defense that had Novack handing out laudits to his players.
“It’s something we always preach, and if you play really good defense, you’re always going to have a good chance at winning,” Novack said. “We rebounded and defended well, and the kids did a great job of buying in on the help-side.”
Another area that had troubled the Longhorns in their brief December schedule, which had seen practice time abbreviated due to playing in the Class 4A-II state championship deep into November, was turnovers.
And the Longhorns finally settled down Friday night, taking care of the ball and committing just seven turnovers. In several of the December games, they had 20 or more.
“It was the best of the year and something we’ve been striving to improve,” Novack said. “Tonight, we were making the sure pass, and it’s a nice thing to see it improve.”
The dominant victory came despite foul trouble for the Holcomb bigs as Kobe Dickson, Paden Cornelsen and Steven Crain all were saddled with two fouls in the first half and spent considerable time on the bench.
“We had to do some maneuvering with the lineup, but the good thing is we have Carter (Blackburn), who played post for us last year,” Novack said. “This year he’s been playing most the 3-spot, but when we moved him back to the post, he’s pretty comfortable there and did a great job for us. He’s a nice backup to have if we need it.”
Dickson paced the Longhorns with 14 points while Trey Gilbert contributed 11. In all, nine different players cracked the scoring column.
The Longhorns will hit the road again Tuesday when they travel to Scott City for another GWAC battle with the Beavers. Tipoff for the boys will be approximately 8 p.m.
Holcomb 57, Goodland 34
It was a successful return following the holiday break, and a perfect way to ring in the new year for the Holcomb girls basketball team.
Friday night, playing on the road, the Longhorns rode the scoring of Eboni Sapien and Britnie Novack, while utilizing a stifling defense, to overpower the Goodland Cowgirls, 57-34, in a Great West Activities Conference contest.
The victory improved the Longhorns to 1-1 in the GWAC and 4-3 overall and they will be on the road Tuesday to take on Scott City in another league matchup.
For head coach Nathan Novack, getting the win after the long holiday layoff was a confidence builder, especially considering how their December schedule ended with a loss to Ulysses on their home floor.
“Road game, league game, it’s a good way to get the new year started,” Novack said. “The biggest thing was that we created turnovers from closing down the passing lanes on top, and the girls made good reads.”
The stifling defense by the Longhorns led to 24 turnovers, 12 in each half, by the Cowgirls. Meanwhile, Novack saw his team commit just 11 miscues.
“We just mixed things up on defense, and I thought we just played better as the game progressed,” Novack said. “The girls did a great job of jumping into the passing lanes.”
After building a 26-19 halftime lead, and then expanding it to 35-22, the Longhorns iced the game away with a 13-2 run to begin the fourth. The Longhorn defense held the Cowgirls without a field goal from late in the second quarter until Brooke Drennan scored in the opening minute of the fourth.
“I thought our offense just got more aggressive in the second half, too,” Novack said. “We’re seeing a lot of triangular-and-2 now, so we’re having to make some adjustments.”
Sapien led the Longhorns with 16 points while Novack contributed 12 points, eight of those coming in the clinching fourth quarter. Sapien had 12 of her points by halftime.
The Longhorns did struggle at the free-throw line, making just 9-of-18 charities. Goodland’s top scorer, Elle McDaniel led the Cowgirls with 12 points, 10 of those in the first half. Drennan added 10 in the losing cause.
The game proved to be a sluggish start for both teams, coming out of the holiday break with more than two weeks since last playing a game.
By the end of the first period, the Longhorns were clinging to a 10-8 lead. It was still a close game early in the second quarter, but then they got a balanced scoring run under way, with Courtney Wren, Britnie Novack, Eboni Sapien, Chesny McVey and Teryn Teeter all getting in the scoring column.
The result produced a 26-19 halftime lead.
It was in the third stanza, though, that provided even more separation for the Longhorns as their defense clamped down on the Cowgirls, holding them without a field goal the entire eight minutes, expanding their advantage to 35-22 heading to the final quarter.
The Longhorns (1-1/4-3) will continue its road trip on Tuesday with a 6:30 p.m. game at Scott City.