Fresh off a homecoming loss against East Texas Baptist, the Comets faced defeat at the hands of the Tigers at the semifinals, ending their season abruptly and cutting their championship run short.
The Comets (20-6, 15-2 ASC) faced the number three ranked Tigers (22-5,14-4 ASC) for a shot to advance to the championship game on Friday, Feb. 24. ETBU, who remained a couple of games behind the Comets for most of the season, kept a close lead on the Comets for most of the semifinals, edging them out by just three points in the end. The loss brought the Comets from number oneseed to number two seed. Despite the semifinals and homecoming losses, the Comets maintained a top spot in the league and secured 20 wins this season, a feat only two other teams in the 10-team conference accomplished.
“We really performed at a very high level for a good part of the year, so I think our guys along with me are sad about the way the season ended, but I think the thing that I tried to communicate strongly with them about in the locker room is that they had a lot to be proud of,” Coach Terry Butterfield said. “They represented the university in a very strong way … So, I think there’s a lot of things that we should pat our players on the back about. And nobody’s happy that we’re not playing for a championship. That’s what we all wanted to do, but all in all finishing almost at the very top of our league, finishing with 20 wins, I can’t be anything but proud of these guys in what they’ve accomplished.”
Last Friday’s game saw ETBU scoring early within the paint, and it was there that the game was made and lost. ETBU’s top scorers and the tallest players — senior forward Kevin Charles and junior forward Darry Moore — found the most success drawing fouls and scoring within the area, with 39 points to show. Butterfield said he saw missed opportunities to tie or win the match from careless turnovers and free throw troubles late in the game.
“We struggled the whole game to try to get on top of them, and we just couldn’t quite do it,” Butterfield said. “We were unable to stop their big kids inside there, who were their best players. And boy, that’s tough to win when you’re giving up that many points to two guys, two insiders, and we just didn’t get the job done. We did not make enough plays both offensively and defensively to win the game.”
The Comets caught onto ETBU’s interior plays and opted for a 2-3 zone defense at several points throughout the game to try and change up the momentum. This sort of play involves two defenders at the top of the key and three behind closer to the basket. Unfortunately, the defensive scheme did little to restrict ETBU’s big players.
“We had a couple of stops within the zone, but they ran a couple of plays that got the ball down inside to their big kids, and our big kids didn’t respond,” Butterfield said. “They hit some big threes. I thought that was key as well.”
While the Comets ultimately lost the game, the team saw notable moments from senior guard Hunter Stevens and junior guard Donovan Souter. Stevens came in hot, scoring 9 points within the first seven minutes of the game, and leading with 17 points in total, although he had a quieter second half. The semifinal playoff was Stevens’ last game, and he ended with 326 career assists, which is the fourth most assists in UTD history. Souter had a bigger second half, securing five rebounds and finishing with 14 points, most of those being 3-pointers. The Comets came close to reaching a tie but couldn’t quite execute all their plays in crunch time.
“It’s a bummer that we lost, and I think we were a better team,” Stevens said. “It is not how we would have liked to have ended it, but overall, it was a great season. I’m glad I got to play with this group. It was just a really good team, group of guys and friends that I’ll have for a long time, and good memories and all of that.”
Senior guard Kyle Poerschke, who is usually a top scorer, didn’t get going until the second half of the game, where he prioritized defense over offense. Poerschke said he believed defense would be the key to winning the game and doesn’t have any regrets about the decision he made. Like Stevens, the semifinals match was his last game.
“It’s hard to think about because I do truly think we are a team that is good enough to be playing in the national tournament, but we won’t get that chance, and that’s okay,” Poerschke said. “Thank you to my teammates. I told them this [that] night, you know me being a first-year guy stepping into a new team, they just welcome me with open arms and made me feel a part of the team immediately. And I couldn’t be more thankful for my teammates this year.”
The Comets will return to play this fall for another chance to secure a fifth championship title.