Harrisburg’s Combs uses third-quarter scoring spurt to end Canton’s season in sectionals

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CANTON, Mo. — As they walked to the locker room at halftime trailing by only two points, the Canton boys basketball team found themselves with a legitimate chance to earn a spot in the Class 2 state quarterfinals.

Trace Combs put an end to those hopes.

Combs, a junior southpaw guard, scored 12 of his game-high 22 points in the third quarter helping guide Harrisburg to a 53-38 sectional victory Tuesday night. 

“I knew I had to take over, “ Combs said. “They really couldn’t guard me.”

Harrisburg (19-11) outscored Canton 18-9 in the third quarter and built a lead as big as 20 points in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017 and travel to Salisbury (27-2) on Saturday. The Panthers have ended the Bulldogs’ season each of the last two seasons in the district round.

“To only score 20 points in the first half and still have the lead, I thought that was huge,” said Harrisburg coach Kyle Fisher, whose team led 20-18 at halftime. “Our offense finally got going in the second half.”

Canton (21-8) had the curtain close in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.

“We just didn’t execute offensively,” Tigers coach Dalton Armontrout said. “I thought our defense was good, but offensively we couldn’t get anything to the rim, and we couldn’t get Preston (Brewer) going. Usually when he gets going, other guys get going. It just didn’t happen tonight.”

Brewer, a junior forward and Canton’s leading scorer at close to 20 points per game, was held to eight points.

“I felt like anytime I cut through (the lane) I was getting stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t move,” Brewer said. “(Harrisburg’s) game plan worked, and we struggled offensively to get things going.”

The Bulldogs’ defensive combination of Wyatt Lind, Myals Thornhill and Rylee Robinson limited Brewer to just two field goals.

“Our whole defensive game plan was around trying to slow (Brewer) down,” Fisher said. “I thought we did a good job of keeping the ball out of his hands because when he catches it down on the block he’s probably going to score.”

Armontrout knew Harrisburg would play a physical brand of basketball and would focus on stopping Brewer.

“If it was me, that would be my game plan too,” Armontrout said.

Canton did not have anyone finish in double figures. Zach Sparrow matched Brewer with eight points, while Caleb Cox added six points, and Drew Gottman wound up with five.

The Tigers were 14 of 41 (34.1 percent) from the field and 3 of 13 (23.1 percent) from the 3-point line.

“We couldn’t run our offense, we couldn’t dribble, and couldn’t run our sets,” Brewer said.

Harrisburg only had five players score. Lind contributed nine points, Caleb Sager and Carter Bremer had eight apiece, and Bryce Ott added six. 

The Bulldogs shot 19 of 42 (45.2 percent) from the field and made 5 of 15 3-pointers. 

Last week, Harrisburg won three district games at Clopton, including a victory over top-seed Van-Far, to go along with the trip to Canton on Tuesday and now head to Salisbury.

“We kind of accepted the road warrior mindset,” Fisher said. “Our guys have played in a lot of tough road environments this year. I think doing that throughout the regular season helped prepare us for a big stage like this. I’m proud of our guys for staying poised in a hostile environment and getting a big win.”

Canton graduates four seniors but returns a strong core next season as the Tigers attempt to get over the sectional hump.

“We had a good season,” Armontrout said.  “We were in the same spot last year and we were hoping to make it to the next round (this year), but the kids played hard and were much improved from last year. I’m really excited about the future.”

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