Men’s squad looks to be key player in ASC tourney

Comets finish second in ASC East, headed to 13th straight ASC tournament after taking on best of conference teams

Firmly positioned at second place in the ASC East standings, the men’s basketball team (17-8, 9-6) is poised for a deep playoff run.

On Feb. 4, the Comets traveled to Mary Hardin-Baylor and secured an ASC playoff bid with an 84-78 win against the Cru. The Comets will be making their 13th straight ASC tournament appearance.

Despite having the conference’s second best overall winning percentage, the Comets find themselves in unfavorable territory and will be looking to rewrite history. Each of the last four times the team has entered the ASC tournament as merely a qualifier — instead of a division champion — it has been bounced from tournament play in the first round.

Although they won’t be adding another ASC East title this season, the Comets are not lacking in confidence after edging out division-leading, defending ASC champions East Texas Baptist (20-5, 12-3) to the tune of 69-68 on Feb. 13.

“I feel pretty solid about where we are headed, especially after beating the No. 1 team in the conference,” said sophomore point guard Caleb Banks. “We’re all riding high on confidence. (Now) it’s just all about us coming together and playing hard.”

The Comets held the Tigers six points below their season average. UTD was in a defensive battle all night long, but were able to survive two potential game-winning lay-ups in the closing seconds.

However, Banks said the key to the victory was not due to any specific game adjustments, but in the manner the team approached the contest.

“We just played hard and together,” he said. “Whenever we play like that, we’re pretty tough to beat. I’m very confident that if we play like that throughout the tournament, we will win.”

The Comets split their final four games of the season. Head coach Terry Butterfield said success in the ASC tournament is dependent on a team’s play heading into the game.

“The thing about going into any tournament play is you need to build momentum before you get there,” Butterfield said. “If your team’s not playing well or they’re being out competed, that not a good sign.”

Butterfield said he believes that the tournament host this season in particular has a distinct advantage than in prior years. Sul Ross State will be hosting the ASC tournament this season in Alpine, Texas.

“Most of the teams are not able to get lodging in Alpine because of a convention,” he said. “A lot of us are having to stay 70 miles away in Fort Stockton. I think having to drive 70 miles everyday to play on top of being away is a big advantage for (Sul Ross State).”

In order to be successful in their bid for an ASC title, Butterfield said the team must protect the ball and have a balanced shot selection. He said the team can sometimes get trigger happy from behind the three-point arc and that is something that still needs fine-tuning.

“Shot selection has been an issue for us this year,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve had to work very hard to understand the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. If you go back and look at our losses, you’ll see that we shot a very poor percentage in those games. When we shoot a poor percentage, it usually means we’re taking bad shots.”

With games in the postseason becoming a slower, more half-court style of game, Banks — who is currently averaging 12.7 points and 5.5 assists per game — said that this benefits the team greatly.

“I’ve become very comfortable in the half-court,” Banks said. “With our playing style, sometimes it’s easier to score in a half-court set.”

In order to survive games, Butterfield said UTD has to be a team that can hold their own defensively.

“The foundation of who we have to be is (to have) great defense and solid rebounding,” he said. “If we’re going to be good and we’re to be successful, we have to be a team that holds people in the low 60s.”

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