HOLCOMB — The Holcomb Longhorns had been on the road so long that playing home Tuesday had to feel strange.
And while the boys team didn’t play its best game of the season, home was sweet enough as the state’s top team in Class 4A-II took out Hugoton, 69-54.
That makes 20 wins over the Eagles in the last 23 tries, as Holcomb raised its record to 13-1 this season.
Playing at home for the first time since Dec. 19, the ‘Horns didn’t play as complete a game as they are used to as Hugoton proved to be a challenge.
The two teams traded baskets and leads throughout the opening period, with the Eagles taking its final lead of the game (16-12) at the 2:02 mark.
But over the next five minutes, the ‘Horns shut out the Eagles and took a 24-16 lead early in the second.
The rest of the quarter, both teams combined for just three field goals and 10 free throws. Holcomb's Kobe Dickson stymied the Eagles on their last possession of the half, blocking all three of Hugoton’s shot attempts.
Neither team could get into a consistent flow following the break, but Holcomb scored on 11 of its 16 possessions while the Eagles’ Carlos Montiel kept his team in the game with 13 third-quarter points.
Down 56-45 going into the final quarter, a Damian Lewis trey cut the Holcomb lead to just eight points, but Hugoton scored just two field goals and two free throws over its final 19 possessions, and the ‘Horns pulled away for the win.
Montiel led all scorers with 25 points and Lewis added 10 for Hugoton.
Holcomb got 18 points from Dickson (nine of those in the first quarter) and 16 from Devin Mader, including a trio of treys.
Carter Blackburn added 10 and Steven Crain nine.
The ‘Horns leading scorer, Trey Gilbert, finished with just two points on free throws.
Both teams were fairly evenly matched on turnovers (Hugoton had 12, Holcomb 13) and the ‘Horns held the edge on rebounds (30-19).
Both teams struggled at the line, with Hugoton going nine for 21 and Holcomb 14 for 28.
For Holcomb coach Chad Novack, a win is a win, but Hugoton proved to be a very tough challenge.
“This is a team that, on any given night, can beat anybody,” he said of a scrappy Eagle opponent.
On this night, though, it was a matter of not taking care of the little things that proved frustrating. At times his team seemed to be going through the motions on both ends of the floor, Novack said.
“You know, we scored plenty of points. I just don’t think our defense was like it has been,” he said. “But credit Hugoton. They scrapped.”
The ‘Horns struggled at times with communication, he added. On defense, for example, they didn’t always call out screens, which led to open baskets or unnecessary fouls.
“We’re going to have to a really do a better job of doing the little things,” he said. “If we do the little things well, then the communication, the team energy will happen.
“I’m not saying we didn’t play hard,” he said. “I thought we played hard; we just didn’t play our best tonight.”
Holcomb (13-1, 5-0 in league) will be back on the road as they travel to Ulysses Friday and to Lakin on Tuesday. Hugoton (5-7, 2-3) will host Goodland Friday and Garden City next Tuesday.