COVENTRY TWP. A year than began with plenty of good ingredients never quite materialized into what the Coventry Comets were hoping for.
With an experienced, talented senior class complemented by a handful of skilled underclassmen, the Comets were aiming for their third Portage Trail Conference Metro Division boys basketball title in program history and a long tournament run, but saw their campaign come up short in both areas.
With a 15-9 record and 10-4 league mark, Coventry still turned in a winning year, but the Comets can be forgiven if they think about what might have been. Injuries plagued the team all year long, costing four of their five starters games and eventually sidelining senior guard Treon Sibley for most of the year.
"It’s been very encouraging through the good and the bad how we kept our heads, stayed together and fought through adversity," second-year head coach Mike DiFalco said. "We were able to win three in a row and ride momentum into tournament. We told them there would be ups and downs and we would get punched in the mouth, but it’s about how we respond."
Part of that response played out in a memorable regular-season finale that saw Coventry topple PTC Metro co-champion Norton for the second time this season. The Comets were the only team to sweep the Panthers in league play this season, but doing so wasn’t easy.
After grinding out a 62-56 home win in January, Coventry traveled to Norton on Feb. 23 knowing that a win by the Panthers would give them the outright division title instead of sharing it with Woodridge. Trailing for much of the first half, Coventry rallied for a 31-30 halftime lead only to see Norton use transition baskets to bully its way to a 60-50 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Undeterred, the Comets turned up their pressure and hassled the Panthers full-court style, forcing turnovers and edging back into the game.
Both teams had chances to win the game in regulation, but each had a possession go awry in the final 30 seconds as Coventry turnover and a Norton play that wasn’t executed well left the game knotted and headed for overtime. In the extra period, the game again went back and with the game tied at 68-all, Coventry gained possession.
Following a timeout, a play that called for a back cut didn’t work out as planned, leaving the ball in the hands of junior guard Micah Wallace near the foul line.
Wallace drove and faded left to avoid a defender, lofting a short jump shot as he drifted away from the hoop. The ball swished through the net, but Norton managed to call a timeout and after a brief discussion, officials put 1.7 seconds back on the clock. Norton attempted a long inbounds pass off the timeout and the clock operator started the clock, appearing to believe that Coventry senior center Sam Vanadia had gotten a hand on the inbounds pass near the baseline.
In the chaos that ensued, the officials determined that the clock shouldn’t have started and reset the clock to 1.7 seconds. The subsequent inbounds pass went out of bounds in the front court without being touched, giving Coventry the ball back under its basket.
Following a foul and a made free throw by Wallace, Norton got the ball back with .8 seconds left and couldn’t get off a shot to tie the game as the Comets won 71-68.
"To go into Norton on their senior night and beat the league champs after being down 10 in fourth was huge," DiFalco said. "The Norton game was a tournament-like atmosphere against a good team. We played well and it prepared us for the tournament game against Alliance."
A 49-40 win over Alliance kept Coventry rolling before second-seeded Buchtel ended the Comets’ season in a Canton Division II sectional final. Playing without Sibley the entire second half of the season, Coventry was able to overcome his absence several times, but having his athleticism against Buchtel would have been a huge boost.
"Treon was dealing with two bad ankles all year and then he banged his knee up and that really hurt us," DiFalco said. "He added depth for us and is a great athlete."
Both Buchtel head coach Matt Futch and several fans in the stands at the Norton game pointed to Sibley’s place on the bench in street clothes as opposed to in uniform as a hindrance for Coventry, but in a season when injuries were a constant and their original starting lineup may have spent more time together in the training room than on the court, it was merely another obstacle for a team that dealt with them from opening day until the last buzzer of the season.
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