BRAIDWOOD — Despite being portrayed as the home team on the scoreboard, the Seneca Fighting Irish played the role of visitors in their opening-round matchup of the Interstate Eight conference tournament on Saturday night, taking on the hosting Reed-Custer Comets. Despite a high-energy atmosphere, the top-seeded Irish were able to hold off the eighth-seeded Comets and advanced to the semifinals with a 78-69 win.
The Irish got off to a blistering start, breaking Reed-Custer’s press for three quick buckets on their first three possessions. Seneca continued to apply the pressure, nailing its first four three-point attempts on its way to opening up an 18-4 lead with 3:36 to play in the first quarter.
Junior guard Conlan Callahan hit his first three attempts from beyond the arc and would go on to hit five treys in the first half on his way to an 18-point night. However, despite a hot first half, for the most part Callahan took composed shots in rhythm with Seneca’s offense.
“It’s important to keep it composed out there when you’re feeling it a little bit,” Callahan said. “If someone’s feeling it, we try to get it to that guy, but we all know we have to be smart about it. Don’t just go up and chuck it.”
As a team, Seneca did fall in love with the long-ball after its hot start, and the Irish missed their next nine shots from the field, including four attempts from beyond the arc. The offensive lull allowed the Comets to get back into the ballgame, as Reed-Custer’s press spurred a 13-0 run that pulled them to within a point at 18-17.
“I know we were at 12 turnovers in the first half, and I think we were at (26) for the game, and that’s just unacceptable,” Seneca head coach Russ Witte said.
“(After the 18-4 start,) we started going away from the gameplan — they made a slight adjustment. They stopped trapping our first catch, but we didn’t want to change what we did. We wanted to make one pass and still attack. Well, we made that one pass but we stopped attacking.”
Eventually the Comets would tie the game at 27 at one point in the second quarter, but Seneca would close out the half on a 13-4 run and carried a 40-31 lead into the half.
In the second half, senior point guard Jimmy David kicked off the scoring for Seneca, scoring two of his team-high 19 points on the night on a quick layup to open the third quarter. David will also chip in four assists on the night.
Seneca would extend its lead to 63-52 heading into the fourth quarter, but Reed-Custer would make one last charge in the final stanchion. The Comets forced seven fourth-quarter turnovers and would eventually cut the lead to three when a bucket by center Tyler Foote was followed by a steal and a three from freshman guard Travis Schoonover with 1:16 remaining. Foote would lead all scorers on the night with 24 points.
However, coming out of the Reed-Custer timeout, Seneca would get another quick bucket from David that would wind up extending the lead to two possessions, and the Comets were never able to close the gap again. A late technical foul for an illegal substitution gave Seneca four free throw attempts—which the Irish would split—and the ball. The snafu would put an end to any comeback thoughts for the Comets.
“The one thing we did really well—we did a lot of things well—but we limited them to three pointers,” Witte said. “Last night against Manteno they hit 12 threes. Tonight, they hit four. So that was a great job on our part.”
Seneca will advance to play Herscher (which won on a buzzer-beating three in its opening-round matchup with Plano) in the semifinals on Tuesday night at 5:30 in the main gym at Reed-Custer.