Monroe Central’s Jake Combs went into the locker room with his team trailing Cowan by one point at halftime Friday. He had been in foul trouble, and had a quiet first half with two points and no field goals.
He made amends in the second half.
Combs scored 23 points to finish the game with 25. He helped the Golden Bears pull away to a 59-44 win over the Blackhawks.
“He did a tremendous job of staying focused, staying in the game (while he sat with foul trouble),” Monroe Central coach Luke Zartman said. “And we were able to get him back in the second half and he really sparked us there in the third quarter to start the run to help us spread the game out.”
Combs scored the first eight points of the third quarter and 10 total in the period. But he still missed a free-throw attempt and three field goals. He turned it up another gear in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 points without missing a shot. He was 3-for-3 from the field and 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final period.
He helped the Golden Bears (10-7, 6-2 Mid-Eastern Conference) go 18-for-21 at the foul line in the second half, including 13-for-15 in the fourth quarter. Monroe Central led by just four points at the end of the third quarter, but its free throws helped it pull away in the final period.
“Free throws can win or lose a game,” Combs said. “If we don’t shoot free throws like that, we probably lose.”
Troy Starr was also at the line late in the game, going 4-for-5 in the fourth quarter.
“The second half of the season, we’ve been shooting about 75 percent from the free-throw line,” Zartman said. “And that’s key for us. Obviously being a perimeter, guard-oriented team, we need those points from the free-throw line off drawing those fouls off the penetration. And the guys did a great job in the second half knocking those down.”
Bracken Barga cracked double-figures for Monroe Central, scoring 13 points. Barga, who grabbed a team-leading seven rebounds, scored nine of his points in the first half to help keep his team in the game despite its foul trouble.
Stewart Kerr led Cowan, scoring 15 points and adding eight rebounds. Kyler Burch scored 12 points for the Blackhawks (5-13, 2-5 MEC).
“(Monroe Central) got a little bit more aggressive,” Cowan coach Mike King said of the second half. “And because of that, it kind of got them in a rhythm. I thought in the first half we played pretty good defense. And then they adjusted. And they’re good, they’re good players. And so they were kind of able to wiggle free a little bit more in the second half.”