Playoff picture muddled

Ice-cold three-point shooting plagued the UTD men’s basketball team when the Comets could least afford it.

Leading American Southwest Conference (ASC) foe Mississippi College by one at halftime on Feb.12, the Comets misfired on 13 of 15 threes in the second half to drop a vital game 74-66.

With the defeat, UTD lost crucial ground in the East division playoff race.

A victory would have assured the Comets a winning season and tied the all-time record for wins in a year.

But it was not to be on a night that saw UTD shoot a miserable 38.6 percent from the field.

With three wins in the final three games, the Comets will still qualify for the conference tournament.

Prior to the loss, the men fought through a quirky schedule, squaring off against LeTourneau and East Texas Baptist twice each in less than a week and a half.

“I think the scheduling is ridiculous. It’s something we need to address within our conference,” Head Coach Terry Butterfield said.

Ridiculous or not, the Comets (12-8, 7-2) survived the stretch, picking up three important division wins in their bid to qualify for the ACS tournament.

UTD opened with a 103-72 shellacking of LeTourneau Jan. 29 followed by a nail-biting 112-110 double overtime win against East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) two days later.

Leading 106-104 with less than two minutes to play in the second OT, forward Adam Bush grabbed a missed free throw and netted a reverse layup. A James Venters layup and two free throws secured a victory over the then-division-leading Tigers.

“I got in [the players’] faces and told them we were going to win it. When you get to that point, it’s a test of character and perseverance,” Butterfield said.

Guard Jason Malone led seven Comet scorers in double figures with 21 points.

Five days later, UTD escaped Longview, Texas, with an 87-84 overtime victory in a rematch against LeTourneau. Watching a 23-point first-half lead evaporate, the Comets fell behind by six with a minute and a half remaining.

A pair of timely threes by Martin Salinas and Jay Swafford and some clutch free throw shooting knotted the game at 77 to force the extra period.

The Comets jumped out to an early lead in the extra period and staved off a furious LeTourneau comeback to pick up the victory.

Salinas, averaging six points in just over seven minutes of action per game, went 3-for-3 from behind the arc.

“Martin’s a shooter. He can provide a lift offensively. He’s a talented player with a bright future,” Butterfield said.

Guard Richard Scott led Comet scorers with 19 points.

A cold-shooting second half

Feb. 7 thwarted the Comets’ bid to take a second game from ETBU in the span of a week. Shooting only 26 percent from the field in the half, UTD saw its East division lead trimmed to one game, losing to ETBU 75-61.

Leading 38-35 at the intermission, the Comets hit only three shots from the floor in the game’s final 10 minutes. Free throw shooting kept UTD close until ETBU went on a 15-1 run to finish the game.

There is still too much basketball left to play to think about the playoffs, Butterfield said.

“We’re in a heck of a contest here. If you look behind us, we have lots of people breathing down our necks. We could go from first to right in the middle of the pack.”

With three games left to play, the Comets are in charge of their own fate, Butterfield said. “Let’s put it this way, we’re in complete control of our destiny.”

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