MANLIUS — Sometimes you can pinpoint one particular moment in a game that proves to be a turning point.
The loss of Bureau Valley junior Tommy Johnston, who suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter on Tuesday night, was that moment against Sterling Newman.
With the Storm trailing 15-12, Johnston drove to the hoop and turned his ankle when he landed awkwardly at the 5:27 mark of the second period. He was taken to a local hospital and determined to have a severe ankle sprain.
From that point, the Comets went on a 20-5 run for the rest of the half to take an 18-point lead into the break. Despite a spirited second half comeback bid by the Storm, the Comets rode a 31-point performance from A.J. Sharp to hold on for a 78-60 victory at the Storm Cellar.
The win clinched the Three-Rivers North Division title for the Comets and also avenges a 70-60 loss to BV at Sterling on Jan. 21.
“We are real happy to win the conference,” Newman coach Ray Sharp said. “It’s the first time we’ve won it in 10 years.”
Sharp didn’t spend much time talking about the conference victory after the game, however. Rather he gave praise to BV for their effort in the second half without their starting forward.
“Tommy Johnston gets hurt in the first half, and they really struggled the rest of the half without him. I give Coach Marquis and the rest of the Bureau Valley team credit. When they came out in the second half, they put that behind them. They came out and really played better than we did in the second half.”
After managing just 2-for-15 from the field in the second quarter, BV came out red-hot in the third and scored 17 points in the first four minutes of the period. A three-pointer from Alex Johnson with 4:02 remaining cut the deficit to 42-35.
Sharp subbed out his entire starting five for a fresh five during the run.
“We weren’t getting any stops,” he said. “We were bigger than we were, and they were getting rebounds, second and third shots. Sometimes when a good player on the other team goes out you let down as a team. That’s how we started the third quarter.”
However, the Storm would not get any closer. Sharp, as he seemed to do all night, stopped the momentum with a big shot. Then, following a hoop inside from Noah McCarty, Sharp hit his second three-pointer of the night to put Newman up 51-39 after three quarters.
“They got it to seven but we didn’t get over the hump,” Marquis said. “Nobody can say those kids didn’t quit. They gave everything they had. They knew what was on the line. You play with the cards you’re dealt. I haven’t had many moments where I have been more happy with a group of kids.”
One of the keys of the Comets’ big first half was holding the Storm’s leading scorer Parker Neuhalfen scoreless. Getting double-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball, Neuhalfen only got up three shots in the first two quarters. He responded with 24 points in the second half to keep the Storm in the game.
In addition to Sharp, the Comets also had two other players in double figures. McCarty scored 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Nolan McGinn added 13, including an off-balance three-pointer from eight feet behind the stripe as time expired in the first half.
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.