Comets hold lead with 11 ticks left in fourth, fall in OT
With this season marking the 50th anniversary of the first Alton Comet basketball team to earn a trip to the Missouri Final Four, this year's edition of Comet hoopsters didn't have to look very far for inspiration.
Alton paid tribute to its 1953-54 squad by winning the Class 2 District 9 Tournament, advancing to the state sectionals for the first time in more than a decade.
Unfortunately for this band of Comets, they exited the playoffs a couple of stops before Columbia, falling to the Sparta Trojans 63-61 in overtime March 10 at Marshfield High School.
Up by 10 points early in the fourth period, Alton saw its lead evaporate as Sparta hung around to make a late charge.
Pumped up by a 10-2 run, the Trojans chopped the Comets' lead to two, 54-52, with 11 ticks left on the clock.
At the free throw line with a chance to tie the game, Sparta's Travis Reed came up short on both ends of the double-bonus, but Trojan guard Dustin Brown grabbed an offensive board on Reed's second errant free throw and tossed it back in to deadlock the game at 54-all with a couple seconds left in the game.
Alton's Justin Crews took the ensuing inbounds pass and headed to halfcourt, where his off-balance shot at the buzzer rimmed out, sending the slugfest to an extra period.
The last 20 seconds of overtime saw an equally frantic finish as both teams fought to keep their seasons alive.
With the Trojans holding a 62-61 advantage with 1:01 left in OT, Sparta tried to run some time off the clock.
This didn't work out as planned, and Sparta coughed the ball up with 40 seconds left.
The Comets returned the favor and the ball to the Trojans on a similar turnover, but instead of stalling, Brown took a shot for Sparta and missed, giving the ball back to Alton.
Missing out on a golden opportunity to take the lead, the Comets committed another turnover and were forced to foul to stop the clock.
Colby Keeth went to the line and hit one of two free throws to move the Trojans in front by two, 63-61, with 17 seconds remaining.
Crews raced downcourt, getting a good look at the hoop, but he had his shot blocked with a scant four seconds showing on the scoreboard clock.
Retaining possession of the ball at halfcourt, the Comets had trouble inbounding the ball against Sparta's defense.
Clinton Hand finally got the ball in by bouncing it off a Trojan. The ball bounded back between Hand and a pair of Trojans.
Coming out of the scuffle with the ball, Hand's only choice was to let fly from near mid-court. He heaved the ball at the hoop, but the buzzer sounded with the ball off-course, giving the Trojans a tight two-point win in overtime.
The game was high-speed from the outset, with both teams favoring an uptempo matchup.
Using a 9-zip run midway into the first period, Sparta held a 17-11 lead after the first period.
The Comets (25-3) cut into the Trojans' margin as Alex Wiggs opened the second period by scoring six of Alton's first eight points, locking the game at 19-all at the 3:05 mark.
Wiggs paced the Comets with 15 points before fouling out with 11 seconds left in regulation.
Hand (11 points) hit the first of his three treys on the night late in the second, and Crews (14 points) chipped in with a layup at the buzzer to switch the lead to Alton's side, 28-26, at the half.
The Comets extended their advantage early in the third and remained on top, leading the entire second half, until Brown's tip-in sent the game to overtime.
Kyle Willard tossed in 10 points for Alton, while Greg Campbell added nine, and Bryan Joiner two.