HOLCOMB — Coaches preach to “never, ever, ever take a team lightly, especially early in the season.”
That’s what Holcomb coach Chad Novack must have reminded his team before Thursday’s tip-off of the Clarion Inn Southwest Classic as the 1-0 Longhorns faced an athletic Kansas City-Christian Panthers team.
Turns out that the top team in Class 4A-II heeded the coach’s advice as the Longhorns dismantled the Panthers, 75-34.
Holcomb was off and running early, turning an 8-6 lead just two minutes in into a 24-8 lead at the first break, increasing it to 51-19 at half.
Trey Sleep awakened early, scoring 12 straight points in the early Longhorn run and finishing the game with 22 points.
Dalton Gottschalk had a double-double, grabbing 11 boards to go with his 20 points.
And sophomore Brandon Stegman found a favorite spot in the corner, hitting four 3-pointers from there in the second quarter on his way to a 14-point game.
Did Novack get what he wanted out his team?
“I think we improved with some of the areas we struggled with last week (in a win against Liberal),” he said. “I thought we did a better job of blocking out tonight, and we did a great job of moving the ball, being more aggressive and attacking.”
Holcomb fired 62 shots from all over the court, converting 30 of those, including five 3-pointers.
The Longhorns also dominated the boards 33-16, and forced 17 turnovers that led to 28 points.
“The kids played pretty well tonight,” Novack said, especially as the Panthers were always on the move, constantly cutting and screening. “I thought our kids did a good job being solid, being fundamental.”
None of Christian’s defenses seemed to hinder the ‘Horns.
“I think we’re a good matchup for any team,” Novack said. “I think we do a great job moving the ball. I feel comfortable whether we’re going against a man or zone because our kids do a good job of executing.”
Ten of Gottschalk’s points came off turnovers, most of which he forced.
“He’s a great athlete. He’s kind of deceiving. He gets in the passing lanes and uses that athleticism to his advantage,” Novack said. “He looked really good tonight.”
Sleep, as well, played crafty down low, he added, with a number of moves to the basket off rebounds and feeds.
The play of the Longhorn bench was impressive, as well.
“That’s one thing that’s going to help us in big games and down the stretch,” Novack said of that group’s 13 boards and 27 points. “We can sub some guys in and I don’t think miss a beat. That’s a strength to our team is our depth.”
Holcomb ended with 20 fouls, including five in just the first four minutes, but a combination of poor free-throw shooting from the Panthers (8 of 22) and aggressive play from the ‘Horns offset that.
“I don’t want them to get into foul trouble, but I like the fact that we’re playing aggressively. That’s the way we are in practice,” Novack said. “I’m OK with that.”
Holcomb will continue Southwest Classic play tonight as it hosts Pueblo, Colo., East at 7:45, while K.C. Christian travels to Scott City Friday.
Holcomb lost to Pueblo last year, and that team went on to win its state title. Novack would like his team to lower the fouls but still play aggressively, especially on the offensive glass.
“We have the size and athletes to really get some easy putbacks if we crash the boards hard,” he said. “East is a good ball club and very, very quick — very guard-oriented. They’re always on the attack, so our defense is going to have to be ready. We’ll have to match their intensity.”
KC Christian—Schutte 1 0-2 2, L. Streeter 3 0-0 7, Johnson 0 4-8 4, Paul 3 2-2 8, Pivovar 3 2-7 8, Trott 1 0-2 2, Gunnigle 0 0-2 0, Coleman 1 0-0 3. Totals 12-31 8-22 34.
Holcomb (2-0)—Mongeau 0 0-2 0, Showalter 2 0-0 4, Stegman 5 0-0 14, Dortch 2 0-1 4, Gottschalk 9 2-3 20, Ramsey 1 0-0 3, Sleep 9 4-6 22, Hernandez 0 0-2 0, VanCleave 2 4-4 8. Totals 30-62 10-18 75.
KC Christian 10 9 9 6 — 34
Holcomb 024 27 22 2 — 75
3-point goals—KC Christian 2-10 (L. Streeter, Coleman), Holcomb 5-17 (Stegman 4, Ramsey). Rebounds—KC Christian 16 (Johnson 4, Coleman 4), Holcomb 33 (Gottschalk 11, VanCleave 6). Personal fouls—KC Christian 11, Holcomb 20. Fouled out—none. Technical fouls—KC Christian (Trott).