1953-54 Comets tip off successful season
Costly mistake gives Comets unexpected loss
By GERALD SINN
Special to the Progress
Part 4 of 7
Part four begins with a game-by-game synopsis covering their first 14 games. The Comets stumbled once on its way to a 13-1 record.
Sherwood at Blue Creek
November 6, 1953. What just happened? The Blue Creek Comets just took the opening game tip-off to make a 2-point lay-up in four seconds. It wasn’t luck, it was a plan. The players themselves designed the play. It happened both at the start and at half-time – in the center-circle. That was 4-points per game, done in four seconds each. It was done in every game (except one). The Comets’ opponents never caught on to it.
How did they do it? Lining up at center circle, each team has four men on the circle, plus the centers jumping, except the Comets. Gerald stepped back six steps from the circle leaving one man open. (That open-man is confused, he can’t believe the idiots left him alone. He looks at his center, then begs for the tip. He’s real cocky about it.)
Everyone in the circle (and the stands) knew who would get the tip - the open guy. Gerald was already nodding to center Ken Z., to Dennis, next to him and to Max, who nodded to Walt. All five Comets were ready, even Ken Z. is going to tip it to the open man. The ref throws up the tip. Gerald takes four running steps flying high in the air, steals the tip with one hand (8 foot high). Before his feet touch the floor he shovels a pass to Max, (clock starts) who instantly flips to Walt on the other corner. Walt throws a long fast pass to Dennis waiting under the basket for a lay-up in four-seconds. All five Comets touched the ball before shooting. Remember the movie “Hoosiers”?
How many Comet games needed four points to win in 1954? How big was the advantage to score in four seconds? Opponents stood in the center circle in utter shock. It worked every game. First and second half tips. The big teams were over optimistic when they saw the small Comets. The four second tip-off, among other surprises, changed that.
Game #1: Blue Creek 85 Sherwood 55 (1-0).
The newspapers stated, “Blue Creek swamps Sherwood with an avalanche. They were never in the contest, trailing 18 to 9 in the first period.” Center Ken Zimmerman and Dennis Doster scored 22 and 21 points respectively. The Comets had nine players in the scoring column. Obviously, the team’s offense is in place – Blue Creek was a 30 point winner.
Game #2: Blue Creek 55 Grover Hill 48 (2-0).
The Hornets gave the Comets a tussle on their home court. However, GH couldn’t stop the long shot shooting of 5’6” guard Max Pease, who led the Comets with seven field goals for 15 points. His defense must have been sharp that night too, the Hornets were held to 48 points.
Game #3: Blue Creek 60 Antwerp 51 (3-0).
Game #4: Blue Creek 53 Hoaglin 38 (4-0).
Game #5: Blue Creek 54 Wren 27 (5-0).
Five games in November, five wins.
Game #6: Blue Creek 81 Oakwood 41 (6-0).
Coach Ned Jay’s Comets romped over Oakwood by 40 points for win number six. Four Comets in double figures – Ken Z 24, Gerald 14, Dennis and Walt 12 each. Comets scored 20 points in each quarter (plus one more in the first quarter).
Game #7: Blue Creek 55 Payne 37 (7-0).
Game #8: Hamler 58 Blue Creek 55 Comets Lose! (7-1).
On a dark winter night the Comets bus and team were driven to faraway Henry County, Ohio, December 23, 1953. There, Blue Creek faced a scrappy Hamler team, which wasn’t having a good year, but couldn’t be overlooked.
Coach Jay made his pre-game comments, then the team started to the gym. “Oh, one more item, Charlie will be starting at forward, replacing Gerald tonight.” The team stopped in their tracks. Jay had just hit them with a lightning bolt. “I’d never seen so many blank and confused faces on my teammates,” Gerald commented. What was Ned thinking? You don’t fix something that’s not broken.
The Comets were an undefeated team ready for Ohio’s top 25. They were on a roll. This game was big for the Comets – in Ohio State rankings. It wasn’t time for Charlie (Hart) yet (he would be Coach Holmes’ first kid to play in the Big 10, in 1957). At this game he was about 6-foot-3 and only weighed 140 pounds. Ned was underrating his opponents that night. What did he lose?
JAY’S LOSSES, COMETS LOSSES
No. 1: What Ned Jay lost was his synchronized defensive team. The Comets’ first five had allowed only 38 points per game average in the past four games. His team was winning games by as much as 30 to 40 points, because of defense. They doubled the score on the Wren team, held them to 27 points. (Wren would be in the Celina District Tournament.)
No. 2: When your team is undefeated, you do what you can to keep it undefeated.
No. 3: Ned lost his tip-off points (the automatic four points per game, in four seconds, at start and half tip-offs). The tips set the Comet’s rhythm. Gerald and Ken Z. started games with the perfect tip-offs. Five players touched the ball in four seconds. How important are four more points to a team at game’s end?
In Hamler, the Comets gave up 58 points, versus a 38-point average in the four prior games, versus 36, 39, 48 and 35 points (40-point average) in the next four games. The other Comets scored in double figures that night; Dennis and Ken 15 each, Max and Walt at 11 points, doing their part. By the time Gerald got into the game the team rhythm was gone, defense was lost and so was his rhythm. He hit 3-of-3 at the foul line, but hit no long shots. He fouled out, first time in the season. Hamler drove through the holes in the Comets defense. In searching the stats, the Comets would have won this game by big points – or at least by use of the four points in four seconds.
Ned Jay started Gerald every game thereafter in the ’54 season. But the undefeated season was gone. Ned still didn’t understand the power behind this Comets team. When defense is stronger than its own strong offense, you win at division, regional and state championship game levels. The Comets embraced both strong points. That night’s game was perhaps Ned’s strongest lesson in coaching.
Game #9: Blue Creek 53 Edgerton 39 (8-1) Paulding Holiday Tournament.
Edgerton, the top team in Williams County, Ohio, brought in a high scorer in game one. His name was Wayne Dennis and he tested Max and Gerald the first time down the floor. Max took him low and tight, Gerald took his four-steps running, flying high to tip Dennis’s shot to the right side. Dennis Doster was already in motion, the tip led him down the floor for the easy two points. Edgerton’s Dennis wailed “Crap” (but that wasn’t the word). He averaged 29 points per game, the Comets shut him down to 19, then went on to beat his state-ranked team by 14 points.
Game #10: Blue Creek 59 Paulding 48 (9-1) Paulding Holiday Tournament.
The fast-moving Comets were also too much for the Paulding Panthers. “Blue Creek showed a good defense to stop their taller opponents,” the news reported. Again, four Comets hit in double–digits; Ken Z 20, Dennis 13, Gerald 11, Walt 10. The Holiday Tourney was won by the 1954 Comets.
Game #11: Blue Creek 65 VanDel 36 (10-1).
Game #12: Blue Creek 53 Antwerp 35 (11-1).
Game #13: Blue Creek 84 Payne 48 (12-1).
Game #14: Blue Creek 64 Oakwood 48 (13-1).
Next week: The rest of the regular season and a state ranking.
© Gerald Sinn 2014