- Last Updated on 10:04 PM 02/07/14
- BY Joe Chandler
Will Miller was in the most pressure-packed situation of his high school basketball career in Thursday night's game against arch-rival GW at Halifax County High School.
The Comets and GW were deadlocked at 48-48 with 7.2 seconds remaining. Miller was at the free throw line with two foul shots coming up, foul shots that could make or break Halifax County High School's bid to defeat the top team in the Piedmont District standings.
"I would say I was pretty nervous," Miller said.
"I tried to calm down a little bit. I didn't want to come up short and air-ball it."
Miller's first shot bounced around, struck the back of the rim of the basket and fell to the floor.
"After that, I knew I had to shoot the second shot a little softer."
Miller hit the second shot to put the Comets up 49-48. GW quickly sped down the floor, but was faced with Comets players at every angle. The Eagles missed an off-balance running shot and Miller claimed the rebound to secure the win in front of the largest crowd fans to fill the Halifax County High School gym this season.
"I knew it wasn't over," Miller said of his thoughts after making the game-winning free throw.
"The Franklin County game was just like that. They had 1.8 seconds and GW had seven seconds. I knew we had to go down and get a (defensive) stop. The (GW) almost made it. The ball hit the front of the rim."
Thursday night's win marked the first win for the Comets over GW in two seasons, the last one coming in Comets Head Coach Larry Epperly's first season as coach of the Comets.
More importantly, the win gave the Comets their 16th win of the season, allowing the Comets to conclude regular-season play with a 16-6 slate and stay in contention for the top seed in the upcoming Conference 16 tournament.
The Comets have been keeping pace with Albemarle High School of Charlottesville in the win column. Albemarle faces cross-town rival Western Albemarle Friday night and a loss by Albemarle in that game will give the Comets the top seed in the conference tournament.
Thursday night's win by the Comets gives them the most wins a Comets team has had since Halifax County High School's 16-5 regular-season record in the 2001-2002 season.
Comets senior forward James Burden, who played his final regular-season game in front of a large enthusiastic crowd of Comets fans, called the win "amazing."
"It's like we always say in practice - never give up because you don't know what the outcome my be at the end. It feels really good. This is the happiest day I could have."
The game was much like Monday night's intense matchup against GW in Danville. This time, the Comets were able to deliver in clutch situations, especially at the free throw line.
Halifax County High School hit seven of eight attempts from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, while GW converted six of nine attempts. And, the Comets got a boost with the return of starting point guard Keyshawn Johnson to the lineup.
Johnson, who sustained a painful injury to his lower back in Monday's game against GW and did not make the trip to Patrick County High School for Tuesday's game, returned to the lineup and led the Comets in scoring with 13 points, seven of which came in the fourth quarter.
"It feels a lot better," the Comets point guard said of his injured back.
"It wasn't feeling that bad. This is the best win we've had so far,"Johnson remarked.
Johnson connected on his second shot attempt of the night, a 3-point basket with 5:05 left in the first quarter that put the Comets up 5-0. The Comets held a 17-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and were on top 22-20 at halftime.
A 9-0 run by the Eagles produced a nine-point 35-26 lead. But the tide swung back in the Comets' favor when GW's Marlowe Cobbs was called for technical foul. The Comets' Tavion Petty hit two free throws and a basket from Trelanne Johnson on the ensuing possession kicked off an 8-0 Comets run that allowed the Comets to get back to within a point at 35-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
Two free throws from Trelanne Johnson with 7:03 left in the game put the Comets on top 36-35. The lead swapped hands twice before a basket by Burden with 5:25 left gave the Comets a 43-39 lead.
GW regained the lead on a three-point play from Jamarcus Hairston with 2:49 left, only to see the Comets rally to regain the lead at 48-46 when Burden converted a three-point play with 1:51 left.
Two free throws from Hairston with 55.6 seconds left tied the game at 48-48, setting the stage for the dramatic end with Miller's free throw and the Comets' last defensive stop.
"I'm really proud of our team," Epperly said.
"I'm happy for our team, our community and our school. This is good for everybody. We're all Comets-we're all one. The student body was tremendous tonight. They were a great "sixth man."
"We're not the strongest team," Epperly continued, "and we're not the tallest. But, boy, do we have a deep will. This bunch has played hard all year long."
Three Comets players scored in double figures with Keyshawn Johnson leading the team with 13 points. Burden chipped in 11 points and Trelanne Johnson finished with 10 points.
Hairston led GW with 15 points.