BY AARON PATTERSON
It’s not often a loss motivates a team to push forward, but dropping a 61-52 decision on Tuesday to the Salt Fork Storm might have been the best thing to happen to the Oakwood Comets this season.
It was the Comets’ 10th loss of the season, and extended their losing streak to four games, one shy of the season-long. But rather than hang their heads about the defeat, they became motivated, and it showed in the second half of their 47-46 Vermilion County Tournament opening-game win against Georgetown-Ridge Farm.
“We have struggled so far at the beginning of the season, and playing a tough team like that, that is ranked No. 1 in the county — playing them so tight showed us how good of a team we can be when we just put everything together and play as a team,” Oakwood senior Kyle Elliott said. “It just motivated us to come to this tournament and try to make a statement.”
The first-half statement that the Comets began to make wasn’t exactly the one coach Doug Robinson wanted to see. Oakwood trailed by as many as 15 in the second quarter, and gave increasing confidence to a Georgetown-Ridge Farm team that had already earned a three-point win over their Vermilion Valley Conference rival on November 30.
At halftime, Robinson reminded his squad of the confidence it gained following the Salt Fork loss, and also of the team’s motto. The halftime talk resulted in a 12-2 run to start the third quarter, and gaining its first lead of the game at 29-28, three minutes, 11 seconds into the frame.
“We talked to them at halftime and we told them that we can’t play hard for just three quarters, we can’t play hard for two quarters,” Robinson said. “It’s got to be a whole game. No matter what the other team’s record is, they are hungry for a win just like we are. So in order to win, we’ve got to play all out for four quarters.
“We came out strong,” he continued. “We didn’t quit. That’s been a motto of ours from early on. We said that no matter what the situation is, we never stop. We never give up. It shows what happens when you never give up.”
Even when the Buffaloes responded with a 12-2 run of their own to go up by 10, one final push with 3:21 remaining in the contest aided in the Comets’ first win in 25 days.
“We just really went back to the basics of playing really hard,” Elliott said. “We got off to a slow start, so our main focus was playing intense defense because we knew if we did that, our buckets would come.
“It was one that we really wanted because we let it slip away last time. We really thought we could beat this team. I was just glad that we came through and achieved what we thought we could.”
Elliott scored 13 points and had four rebounds while Skyler Slade put up 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Parker Lee was also two rebounds shy of a double-double scoring 10 points and pulling down eight rebounds. With few guys in the area able to stop Slade in the post, the primary objective of the Comets was to feed the ball inside. Slade proved crucial in the second half where he scored 10 of his points on perfect accuracy. He scored his team’s first points of the game, and with a possible fifth consecutive loss looming, recorded the game-winner with 22 seconds to go.
While Robinson was pleased with the effort of his team’s post play, he was perhaps equally as glad to see one of his primary scorers share the ball so well. Elliott finished with a game-high seven assists in an aspect of his game that has gained attention as of late.
“Defenses tend to key on Kyle because he is a scorer,” Robinson said. “The fact that he’s now keeping his head up and realizing when he’s being overplayed or double-teamed to find the open man, that’s a leader. That’s senior leadership. He’s a guy that likes to score, and when he finds another guy to score the winning basket, I like seeing that out of him.”
Kyle Coburn and Tyson Reed scored 15 and 14 points respectively for the Buffaloes, and despite entering the game with only two wins on the season, coach Adam Latoz felt as though his team had enough confidence to score its second win of the season against the Comets. Instead, he watched as they suffered another disheartening loss, a game that was only seconds away from becoming a clear mark in the win column.
“This is a hard one, and we don’t have much time (to dwell on it),” Latoz said. “We turn around on Tuesday night and (play Salt Fork).
“We didn’t take care of the basketball at the end, and we didn’t finish out a game that we should have finished out. It’s a hard one to take because when you’re 2-14, you’ve got to finish out games. Each win is very important.”
Both teams next play against Salt Fork. Georgetown-Ridge Farm will face the Storm Tuesday at 8 p.m., while the Comets meet the tournament’s top-seeded team on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.