By KEVIN THOMPSON
ULYSSES — About the only difference between Ulysses and Holcomb in Friday night's conference matchup was that one team wore black and the other white.
Both teams had a Novack at the helm (Nathan for Ulysses, cousin Chad for Holcomb), both had the same conference record, and both play a scrappy style of ball.
This time it was Ulysses that was able to come away with a bruising 55-48 win over the league rival Longhorns in Great West Conference Activities play.
After trailing 25-24 at halftime, Ulysses pulled away in the third, then held off a late Holcomb charge to get the win.
Tyler LaSalle scored 12 of Holcomb's final 18 points, despite managing just four points after sitting with foul trouble the first three quarters, but the Tigers were able to shut off most of Holcomb's challenges.
When Corey Roth hit a pair of free throws with under a minute to play, Holcomb climbed back to within a point, 49-48, but it was the final point of the game for the Longhorns, as they were forced to foul and put Ulysses at the line.
It was almost a perfect strategy. The Tigers converted on just 16-of-33 free throw attempts for the game, including just 11-for-21 in the final period. But what they did make late was enough to seal the win.
Holcomb's inside game of Shane Bennett and Max Ramsey scored all nine of Holcomb's first-quarter points but managed just 13 between them the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, Ulysses (6-2, 3-1) got scoring from a number of players at various times to stage their own comeback, including Tregg Rodriguez's six in the second to pull the Tigers close at the break.
In the third quarter, the Ulysses defense held Holcomb to just one field goal — a three by Roth — building a 34-30 lead going into the fourth.
Holcomb held its final lead of the game in the third at 30-25 with four minutes to play. The Tigers staged a 12-1 run over the next five minutes to take the lead and the momentum.
"It was just scrap. Everyone was scrapping for the ball," Novack said. "A lot of times we didn't have good position, but we were scrapping for loose balls."
When they needed to run offense, the Tigers were able to keep their composure he said, and they held themselves to just seven turnovers, a sign of focus, Novack said.
"That's one thing that's been a downfall for us, but our guys were really able to take care of it tonight," he said.
Novack knew Holcomb would be physical, so that didn't surprise him, and he stressed that in practice all week. It paid off.
"That first four or five minutes, they were pushing us around. They were able to get easy shots on us. We adjusted with physicalness and outside closing out their guards," he said.
Holcomb (6-3, 2-2) suffered its second straight conference loss with a poor shooting third quarter (a combined 2-for-21 in that fateful period). It could be just a lack of focus, Chad Novack said.
The momentum in the first period didn't carry over, he noted, and they weren't able to use Ramsey and Bennett as effectively the rest of the game, though the combined for 18 rebound.
"The trouble is, we don't put together complete games. We haven't done it all year. That comes back to haunt, as evidenced tonight," Chad Novack said.
He, too, knew the game was going to be physical, and he thought his Longhorns held their own for the most part.
Holcomb was just 3-of-19 from three-point range, and overall they shot 16-for-53 (30 percent), and not even Ulysses' missed free throws were enough to overcome.
Besides LaSalle's 16 points, Bennett had 13 and nobody else had more than eight.
The Longhorns have a few days before heading to the Hillsboro tournament, and it's time for the team to get refocused, Novack said.
"We've really struggled mentally the last two games, and you're not going to beat good teams when you're not ready to go," he said. "Hopefully we turn that around next week."
Rodriguez was Ulysses' high scorer with 12 points, and the only Tiger in double figures.
But that's okay with coach Nathan Novack.
"That's the good thing about this team — there's no selfishness on this team," he said. "Our guys really enjoy each other and would do anything for the team and the coaches. These guys, especially our seniors, are stepping up at the right time."
Ulysses plays Colby on Monday and then takes on Mill Valley in the first round of its mid-season tournament.
Holcomb 9 16 5 18 -- 48
Ulysses 7 17 10 21 -- 55
Holcomb (6-3, 2-2) — LaSalle 7 1-1 16, Cox 0 1-2 1, Gilbert 1 0-1 2, Roth 2 2-2 8, Bennett 4 5-8 13, Ramsey 2 4-7 8. Totals 16 12-21 48.
Ulysses (6-3, 3-1) — Stringham 2 4-5 9, Rodriguez 4 4-6 12, Walters 1 1-4 3, Barlow 3 1-2 8, Meierhoff 4 0-1 9, Annis 2 4-11 8, Medina 2 2-4 6. Totals 18 16-33 55.
3-pt. goals — Holcomb 3-20 (LaSalle 1, Roth 2), Ulysses 3-11 (Stringham 1, Barlow 1, Meierhoff 1). Rebounds Holcomb 30 (Bennett 11, Ramsey 7), Ulysses 25 (Annis 6, Rodriguez 6). Turnovers — Holcomb 7, Ulysses 7. Fouled out — Holcomb (Roth). Technical foul — Holcomb (bench).