HOLCOMB — The basketball season just wouldn’t seem complete without a Holcomb appearance in the state Class 4A-II division.
The Longhorns earned their fourth state berth in five years with a 64-36 win over the over-matched Larned Indians Saturday, doing it in front of their home crowd.
The win sets up the state’s top team (22-1) to defend its title and potentially claim its third crown in four years.
Holcomb will be the top seed at the state tournament in Emporia, where the Longhorns' first-round opponent will be Frontenac (11-11), the eighth seed.
In a bit of irony, the Longhorns will be facing the same school that they beat in November for the Class 4A-II state football championship.
After taking out Pratt 63-27 Friday night, Holcomb didn’t look as crisp or as sharp as it did in the semifinals.
The 'Horns started out hot with an 11-2 run, but they went cold for more than four minutes, before closing out on three points from Kobe Dickson (he had 10 points in the quarter) for a 14-9 lead.
The ‘Horns outscored Larned 13-4 in the second, but were just 5 of 12 from the floor with eight turnovers in the half, not able to pull away from a pesky Indians squad.
It was the second half that separated the two teams.
At the 6:00 mark, after Larned scored six straight points to open the quarter, Holcomb went on an 18-3 run over the next 5 minutes and 32 seconds, taking a 45-25 lead into the final period.
At 4:05 in the fourth, Paden Cornelsen’s field goal gave Holcomb a 59-29 lead and activated the running clock.
It was his only goal of the night but came after his 12th rebound of the game.
Holcomb shot 24 of 47 from the field (5 of 19 from behind the arc), but Larned was just 13 of 47 (5 of 24 from 3-point land).
It was also Holcomb’s size and strength inside that gave them a huge 38-18 advantage on the boards, which led to 13 points scored on second and third chances.
Dickson had 17 of his 25 game-high points, along with six of his nine rebounds, in a first half that wasn’t what they had designed.
“We had to come together at halftime as a team and get straight what we were doing,” Dickson said. “We were all trying to do our own thing in the first half, so we just played more as a team in the second half.”
Larned (10-12) was no slouch of a team, he added, especially after they came back from 17 points down Friday against Hugoton to get that win.
“All credit to them, they’re a great team. But once we came together as a team, I don’t think they could have stopped us,” he said.
Dickson scored his team’s first eight points, twice on the and-1 variety. He scored eight straight to end the first and start the second periods, his left-handed lay-in at 6:52 starting a 10-2 run for Holcomb to end the half.
Novack, too, wasn’t satisfied with his team’s first-half play, despite the lead, and the intermission gave his staff time to fix things.
“We talked at halftime about how we were trying too hard,” he said. “They played hard. I think they were just trying to do too much instead of letting the game come to us.”
Halftime was like taking a deep breath and relaxing, he added.
“Once we did that, things took off for us,” he said.
Larned is a scrappy team that plays hard, Novack noted, and the Indians used their athleticism to attack his team’s game plan.
“They disrupted our offense early but part of that was our own doing, as well,” he said. “But once we settled in and played our basketball, and we dictated the tempo and what we were going to do, good things happened.”
Defensively, the Longhorns did what got them this far, which is play solid and fundamental ball, Novack said.
“That’s been our emphasis all year is to play disciplined basketball,” he said.
Larned coach Jerrod Smith knew his team was a definite underdog coming into this game, but he was happy with his team’s effort.
“We gave it all we had,” he said. “We talked to the boys about coming out and matching (Holcomb’s) intensity from the beginning, and I felt like we did that — 14-9, first quarter.”
His team just didn’t have the depth to contend with the ‘Horns all game.
“They’re deep, and they’re good and they play really, really hard at a high level,” Smith said. “We didn’t hit shots from the outside, which we were going to need to do. We needed the 3 to be going in to compete, because we weren’t going to be getting much in the paint.”
That was a result of playing at a faster pace than his team is used to, he added.
“We didn’t leave anything on the floor,” Smith added. “I’m proud of them.”
Sophomore Brock Skelton led the Indians with 11 points. Mason Perez and Keelan Castro both added seven.
While Holcomb’s presence in the state tournament seems expected, Novack isn’t taking anything for granted for their opening game Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
“We’ll watch a lot of film and tie up some loose ends before we head out,” he said. “We understand we’re there for business. We want to have fun, but we’re also there to take care of business.”
Notes: Holcomb won state titles in 2017 (24-1) and 2015 (25-1) and qualified but lost in the first round in 2014.
This will be Holcomb’s 13th trip to a state tournament, dating back to 1985, when Novack’s father, Dave, was the head coach.
Holcomb has made it to the tournament’s final four eight times, winning four titles, including 1986 and 1992.
Both Chad and Dave Novack have coached two state titles, each with Holcomb.