It seems ironic that, in a game filled with missed free throws, it was free throws that won the game for Holcomb's girls in crunch time.
Despite missing 17 free throws, the Longhorns held off a late challenge to take out Wichita Collegiate, 63-59, Saturday to finish 2-1 in the Clarion Inn Roundball Classic.
Playing the final game at Garden City High School, Holcomb might have found the baskets a little different from their home court as they went 1 for 2 on every free throw opportunity in the first half (they were 7 of 14 in that stretch while the Spartans were 7 of 15).
It’s also that first half when shots weren’t falling for Holcomb as they trailed 24-22 at the break.
Halftime adjustments made, Holcomb wrote a different story in the third quarter, outscoring Collegiate 23-15.
They carried that into and eventually took a 52-39 lead at the 3:42 mark of the final period, holding Collegiate scoreless throughout that span.
The tide turned after that, however, as the Spartans went on a run that cut the lead to three at 60-57.
Courtney Wren then hit one of her free throws to make it a 4-point lead, but Kennedy Brandenburg sank a pair of freebies to cut the score to 61-59 with 12 seconds to play.
But Holcomb broke the press, Darien Mader was fouled with five seconds to play, and she calmly, assuredly swished her free shots to seal the win.
For the record, Holcomb was 22 of 39 from the line—not very good—but it was their five of six to fall that proved to be the difference in the end.
“The girls are pretty excited, no matter how it came out,” Holcomb coach Nathan Novack said minutes after the win.
What adjustment accounted for the turnaround in the second half?
“Obviously the boxouts was a point of emphasis,” Novack said. “The girls, offensively, I felt we finished stronger, especially in transition offense.”
Holcomb out-rebounded the Spartans 40-33, also another difference maker.
Finishing the game on free throws after shooting poorly for much of the game also was a plus.
“Those were high pressure,” Novack said of the late run. “Maybe they were too relaxed early in the game and not focused enough.”
For Wren and McVey to hit what they did, when they did, meant his two players were about as focused as anyone could get
“Poised and determined. That’s good to see,” he said.
After taking the 13-point lead midway in the fourth, his team found themselves in some pressure caused by a motivated Spartan defense, he added.
“We put ourselves in bad situations and they took advantage of it,” Novack said. “We had a scoring drought just because of that.”
Thursday, Holcomb lost a game after taking an 11-point lead. Friday, they held onto and increased a lead for a win. Saturday was similar to Friday, except for one thing.
“It was harder because we had a lot of foul trouble,” Novack said, as he watched four players foul out in the fourth quarter.
Playing with foul trouble posed its own challenges, but it says a lot that his team handled it, Novack said.
Wren led the ‘Horns with 17 points, and Chesney McVey and Madi Ruda added 11. Maddie Mairs had 20 and Brandenburg 19.
Holcomb (2-2) will host Ulysses Friday to open GWAC play and Cimarron the following Tuesday before the holiday break.