JOHN CURTIS - Daily Union Sports Editor
SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
STRASBURG — The thought crept into Newton coach Doug Mammoser’s mind after his team inadvertently scored for Stewardson-Strasburg in the first half on Tuesday.
After a 10-0 start to the season, it simply might not be the Eagles’ night.
Travis Lidy and Luke Stone collided while going for a defensive rebound on a missed free throw, and the ball got deflected into the basket, helping the Comets take a six-point lead into halftime.
“At the time, you’re going, ‘What are we doing here?’” Mammoser said.
But Newton’s coach didn’t let the notion consume his team for one simple reason: The Eagles have owned the second half all season.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my kids because they’ve responded in the second half,” Mammoser said.
Did they ever on Tuesday. Newton (11-0) continued its undefeated start by outscoring Stew-Stras 31-2 in the first 11 minutes of the second half, cruising to a 66-39 nonconference win after a shaky start.
It was a final score that seemed highly unlikely after the Eagles shot just 10 of 29 from the floor and turned the ball over eight times in the first 16 minutes. Still, Newton found itself down just six points, something their coach reminded them.
“I told them I don’t feel we played very well, but we’re still in good position,” Mammoser said. “They came out in the second half and did a good job.”
Defense and rebounding fueled Newton’s second-half surge, as the Eagles forced eight Comets turnovers and grabbed eight offensive boards in the third quarter alone.
Derek Schackman’s buzzer-beating stickback — all in one motion — was the definitive play of the quarter, as Newton outscored Stew-Stras 21-2, completely turning the tide of the game.
“We’ve been coming out in the first half a little tentative and make some mistakes,” Mammoser said. “The second half, our defense kicks in a little bit and Luke Stone kinda settles down and we are able to make some runs.”
Stone was right in the middle of Newton’s big third quarter, and the 6-foot-3 junior finished with game-high totals of 18 points, nine rebounds and five steals. He had 10 of those points in the third quarter, taking advantage of his size both defensively and on the offensive glass.
“Lucas was able to do that,” Mammoser said. “He was able to get a lot of offensive rebounds for putbacks.”
The Eagles scored 16 unanswered points before Justin Fulk broke the Comets’ drought with 40 seconds remain in the quarter. Newton didn’t let up in the fourth at all, however, scoring 13 points in the first three minutes to blow the game wide open.
Stew-Stras wound up with 14 of its 24 turnovers in the second half.
“Defensively, I thought we were pretty strong,” Mammoser said. “The second half, we were able to put on some pressure, and I felt the guys off the bench came in and kept the tempo up. And our big guys ran the ball much better in the second half.”
Stew-Stras coach Shane Smith lamented his team’s rebounding, as Newton had a 35-19 advantage on the glass. The Eagles had a 17-7 advantage in the that category after halftime, most of those boards being of the offensive variety.
“We gave up a couple offensive rebounds and then it was just an avalanche, and we just let it keep coming,” Smith said. “I’m real disappointed with our second half.
“Then adding insult to injury, we break the press but wind up turning the ball over in the halfcourt. It’s kind of hard to get any shots when you’re turning the ball over all night. They stepped the pressure up and we didn’t handle it. That’s the end of the game right there.”
Dylan Davidson added 16 points and nine assists for the Eagles, and Keith Butler flirted with a double-double with 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Comets effectively pounded the ball inside to the 6-4 Fulk in the first half, and the big man scored 10 quick points. But he went to the bench with two fouls late in the second quarter, and Stew-Stras’ eight-point lead started to dwindle.
“I told one of my coaches that we should have had a bigger lead at halftime,” Smith said. “And we talked at halftime, nobody will remember the first half if you don’t win the second half, that’s what happened.”
Fulk finished with 20 points, right at his season average.
The Eagles won big despite going 0 for 8 from the foul line and just 2 for 14 from 3-point range. The loss of Elijah Knepper — who is out for the season after suffering an injury — has certainly hurt Newton in the latter category, but it hasn’t hurt Newton in the win column yet.
“We still don’t have that outside shooting,” Mammoser said. “That’s a little bit of a problem for us.
“I think the other guys have done a better job scoring, taking the ball to the basket, getting some steals, and getting the ball inside more. There’s nothing we can do about (Knepper’s injury) We’ll see how it goes when we get into the second part of the (schedule), when we play Robinson and those guys.”
Both teams will be in action next week in holiday tournament play. Newton will look to defend its title at the Dieterich Holiday Tournament, while the Comets will play in the Tri-County Tournament.
Newton 66, Stew-Stras 39
Newton (11-0) — Johnson 3-9 0-0 6, D.Davidson 7-14 0-2 16, Schackmann 4-7 0-0 8, Shipman 1-1 0-0 2, Pickens 1-2 0-2 2, Stone 9-15 0-4 18, C.Davidson 1-6 0-0 2, Ebeling 0-1 0-0 0, Butler 5-9 0-0 10, Lidy 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 32-66 0-8 66.
Stew-Stras (4-3) — Helmuth 4-7 0-0 9, Rincker 0-1 0-0 , Helton 0-2 0-0 0, Becker 1-6 0-4 2, Bugger 0-0 1-2 1, Luce 0-1 0-0 0, Fry 1-5 2-2 5, Fulk 9-18 2-4 20. Totals 15-41 7-16 39.
3-point goals — Stew-Stras 2-6 (Helmuth 1-3, Rincker 0-1, Helton 0-1, Fry 1-1), Newton 2-14 (Johnson 0-2, D.Davidson 2-7, Schackmann 0-1, C.Davidson 0-4. Rebounds — Newton 36 (Stone 9, Butler 8, Johnson 5), Stew-Stras 19 (Becker 5, Luce 5). Turnovers — Stew-Stras 24, Newton 10.