Westchester High School junior forward Dane Suttle was confident that once the Comets started to execute their typical style of play, the challenge from the visiting Venice High School Gondoliers would be in the past.
The Comets (17-4, 5-1) faced yet another challenge from Venice in the first half of the Western League game Friday, January 27th, but they turned up their level of play after halftime and cruised to a 79-52 victory over the Gondoliers (7-9, 2-4).
In the first meeting between the two teams this season, January 11th, Venice was able to challenge Westchester for the entire game but the Comets held on for an 84-78 victory.
After holding only a 30-26 lead at halftime Friday, it appeared that Westchester might have another test against Venice, but this time the Gondos were unable to keep up in the second half.
“It was a matter of us executing,” said Suttle, who led the Comets with 17 points. “When we went into halftime, coach (Ed Azzam) wanted us to run our offense more and rebound better.”
Suttle said the Comets were not surprised at the early challenge from Venice, considering the effort the Gondos put forth in the first meeting of the season.
“We expected them to play hard against us,” Suttle said. “We want to play hard against every team because we want to get better.”
Although Venice was overpowered by one of the top teams in the league, coach Josh Herscher said the Gondos can hang with any team when they are playing together.
“Our biggest thing is playing together,” Herscher said. “We’re the kind of team that when we play together I think we can beat anyone.”
Westchester jumped out to a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter after a six-point effort by senior forward Brett Goodwell.
But the Gondos slowed the pace of the Comet offense at the start of the second quarter and went on a 9-0 run to take the lead.
Senior guard Noah Gottlieb evened the score at 14-14 with his first three-point shot. Gottlieb, who had a game-high 41 points in the first game against Venice, finished with another game-high 23 points, including four three-pointers, in the second game.
Venice then grabbed its first lead of the game at 16-14 when senior forward Calvin Morgan made a shot with 4:40 remaining before halftime.
“We played with effort and played together,” Herscher said of the second-quarter performance. “We had intensity on defense.”
While Westchester struggled with turnovers throughout the second quarter, the Comets were able to maintain the edge after a six-point effort by Suttle.
Venice may have been able to keep up with Westchester in the first half, but the Comets went into a higher gear on offense in the third quarter and outscored the Gondos 23-7.
The Comets started the second half by bolting ahead with a 14-0 run before Venice scored its first points of the third quarter with 4:20 remaining.
Suttle tallied eight points to help give Westchester a commanding 53-33 lead heading into the fourth quarter, while Venice appeared to lose the offensive spark it had in the first half.
“We hit a little adversity in the third quarter and we didn’t step up,” Herscher said. “We stopped playing as a team.”
Venice found more life on offense in the final quarter, including a nine-point performance by Gottlieb, but it was not enough to stop the Comet attack.
A shot by senior Greg Ray gave the Comets their biggest lead at 79-48 with one minute remaining, and Westchester had erased any signs of the close challenge from Venice in the first half.
Junior forward Chevoirye Wade finished with 11 points for Venice and Morgan added nine points.
Junior forward Isaiah Jenkins finished with 15 points for Westchester.
The Comets will next try to avenge an earlier loss to rival Fairfax High School for a shot at the league title in a visiting game at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 2nd.