By Savannah Libby | The Chronicle

Mason sophomore guard Ben Menker looks to pass the basketball in the Comets’ loss to Hilliard Bradley.

The Mason Comets closed out the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic hosted at the Mason Arena with a 54-47 loss to the Hilliard Bradley Jaguars on Saturday, November 27. The Comets notched their first win of the season the night before by defeating Tri-Village 60-46 on day one of the classic. 

Trailing by two points heading into the fourth quarter, Hilliard Bradley took advantage of Mason’s inexperience, outscoring the Comets 13-4 in the final quarter. Led by Jaguar junior guard Cade Norris who scored eight of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, Hilliard Bradley capitalized on Mason’s 18 turnovers to send the Comets to their first defeat of the season. 

The lack of experience from the younger Comets started to show in that crucial fourth quarter, as they rushed their offense and took contested shots that were unsuccessful in shrinking the Jaguars’ lead. Mason head coach Greg Richards said that his young team can use this game as a chance to learn how to be more patient under pressure.

“Our inexperience showed up in those quarters where we didn’t finish,” Richards said. “We panicked a little bit too early in the fourth quarter. Instead of being patient and trying to run our offense and get something easy we got out of character and took some bad shots.”

Mason came out on fire in the first quarter, jumping out to a 22-16 lead sparked by sophomore Ben Menker who finished the game with 11 points. Menker’s pass-first mentality and tenacious defense played a key role in the Comets’ early lead. Menker said Richards planned to use the speed of the younger members of the team for opportunities to score.

“Coach Richards kept saying we had to get points off of our defense,” Menker said. “Just pick it up defensively so you can get turnovers and go score quick layups.”

Down eight to start the quarter, the Jaguars responded with a quick scoring spree and lock-down defense, holding Mason to only four points for the quarter to send the game to halftime tied at 26.   

Starting the third quarter knotted at 26, Richards tried to impress upon his team at halftime that it was a whole new ball game. 

“We were tied at the half and I thought, ‘we’re just starting from zero to zero basically,” Richards said. “We had two quarters [left] to try to get it done”

After the halftime adjustments, the two teams engaged in a back and forth third quarter with neither able to pull away. Norris hit a three early in the quarter but the Comets responded with an Alex Morton layup followed by a Todd Middleton steal and score to retake the lead 30-29. Eventually, the Comets would extend their lead to seven mid-way through the quarter. A 17 point third quarter outburst helped Mason take a two point lead heading into the final quarter.  

Hilliard Bradley closed the third quarter in a flourish and that momentum continued into the fourth quarter where Mason’s lead was short-lived. The Jaguars tied the game at 45 on a Norris three pointer. Middleton responded by hitting two free throws to tie the game at 47. That would be the final points the Comets would score. Despite going 14/24 from the free throw line, the Jaguars were able to hold on for the hard fought win.

The Jaguars gave Mason plenty of chances to get back in the game but some costly turnovers proved to be the Comets’ downfall. Menker said the youthful Comets will use the loss as motivation to grow closer as a team and prepare them for close games throughout the remainder of the season

“I know that everybody can improve,” Menker said. “Because we are young I think we lean a lot on our seniors and they make great plays for us. The sophomores are feeding into that and just watch what they do. We’ll get better this year.”

The Comets will face the Springboro Panthers at home on Tuesday, November 30. The Panthers are 1-0 after opening their season with a 73-53 victory over Xenia.

Photo by Lily Haller