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Comets hold off Mt. Vernon 46-40; advance to region semifinals

Halifax County High School Head Coach Larry Epperly called it “winning ugly.”

The Comets’ second-half performance Tuesday night against Mount Vernon High School in the quarterfinals of the 5A North Region Basketball Tournament wasn’t up to par, but it was good enough.

Halifax County High School, who had led by 14 points at halftime and led by 15 points heading into the fourth quarter, went cold offensively in the second half, but hit three of four key free throw attempts in the last minute and 12 seconds of the game to hold off the Majors 46-40.

The win was the Comets’ 20th victory of the season, and it advanced them to Thursday night’s semi-final round, where they will be on the road to face undefeated Potomac High School.

Halifax County High School (20-7 overall) scored only nine points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth quarter, three of them by free throws. They had six turnovers in the fourth quarter including two in the final minute and failed to hit any of their nine 3-point shot attempts in the second half.

When the game was done, only three of the Comets’ five starters, James Burden, who led the team in scoring with 18 points, Trelanne Johnson, who finished with 14 points and Tavion Petty, who chipped in a dozen points, had scored in the game. The only other Comets player to score was reserve Treyvon Brandon, who had one basket for two points.

“The second half was very ugly,” Epperly remarked.

“But, in all of that ugliness there are a lot of positives -— our 20th win of the season and our first regional tournament win — just a lot of good things happening.”

As has been the case in the past two games, it was defense that carried the Comets on this night. By holding the Majors to 40 points, the Comets have held their opponents to 40 points or less in each of their last three outings.

“Coach (Epperly) made us play a whole lot of defense in practice,” Johnson explained, “and it paid off in this game.”

The Comets’ first-half performance was outstanding. Scoring on three of their first four possessions, the Comets scored nine unanswered points in the first 3:03 of the game to take a 9-0 lead. Most of the points came from Johnson and Burden, who carved apart the Mount Vernon High School zone defense with easy baskets deep in the paint.

They combined for 10 points to help lead the Comets to a 13-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. Petty nailed a 3-pointer to start the second quarter, kicking off a 7-3 run by the Comets in the first two minutes of the period to give the Comets 20-9 lead.

After the Majors cut their deficit to nine points, the Comets went on another run, using their defense to spur an 8-0 run to take a 28-11 lead. The Comets finished the first half with a 30-16 lead, ending a solid two quarters of play that saw them turn the ball over only three times.

“Everybody just gave me and Trelanne the ball in the paint,” said Burden, who scored 10 of his team’s 30 first half-points.

“I just scored. They just told me not to miss any layups.”

Burden said he was surprised he was able to score as easily as he did in the first half.

“I was very surprised,” Burden remarked.

“When Keyshawn (point guard Keyshawn Johnson) and James (reserve guard James Smith Jr.)     penetrated and kicked (the ball out) I was wide open and they gave me the ball every time.”

“We were clicking on all cylinders,” Epperly pointed out.

“We had the ball inside and made some shots outside. They (Mount Vernon) were really finding it hard to find shots.”

While the Majors trimmed the Comets’ lead to 11 points with a run in the middle of the second quarter, the Comets got back on track with the help of its defense and finished the third quarter with a 39-24 lead.

Down the stretch in the troublesome fourth quarter, it was defense that made the difference.

“They (Mount Vernon High School) went to a zone (defense) and we couldn’t make a shot,” Epperly said.

“In those situations, your defense has to carry you. We were ice cold. We couldn’t make any shots, but we have the composure to stay with it and not get rattled when the other team is making a run at us. We hung in there and never let the lead get away from us. 

“This is three straight games we have stopped people,” the Comets’ coach added.

“We’re doing what we have to do to win.”

Nine Mount Vernon High School players scored in the game, with L.B. Jones leading the Majors with eight points, half of which he scored in the fourth quarter. Bryce Washington followed with six points.

With Tuesday night’s loss, Mount Vernon High School ends its season with a 13-14 overall record.

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