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Defensive solidity key for Palomar men’s basketball

Kevin Hardyway (4) drives in the lane for a layup over Grossmont players. The Comets went on to defeat Grossmont 69-66. (Johnny Jones/The Telescope)

Starting their season in early November, Palomar’s basketball team has been hitting the hardwood during the intersession.

Continuing their season during the winter break the men’s team is more than halfway through their season.

Already into Pacific Coast Athletic Conference (PCAC) play, The Comets started off strong, registering their first win against Mira Costa by a score of 72-53 on January 20 and were prepared for their next game against Grossmont.

The Comets won the close contest by a score of 69-66, adding another win to their strong 13-7 record starting 2-0 in conference.

Compiling a 15-12 overall record last year and entering this season as the reigning PCAC North champions. With four returning sophomores the standard and expectations from that team have been carried over.

“Last year’s sophomores did a great job in reading us and teaching us how to win. We’re transferring that to our sophomore year.” said guard Deven Riley. “As sophomores and leaders this year I think we’ve taken that and we’ve taken the challenge of teaching our freshmen how to be successful at this level.” he added.

Speaking post-victory over Grossmont on January 22, 13-year Comets head coach, John O’Neill, said he has been preparing his players for future games. “We’re working on defense,” said O’Neill. “We know we’re going to score because we’ve got some really good offensive players, we just have to learn how to get stops.”

Palomar’s Kevin Hardyway (#4) Drives the lane for a hard earned lay-up while Matt Duniphan (#21) waits for the rebound.

This season is all about defense, defense and more defense. O’Neill has driven this home to his players by making it their key to success.

Sophomore Deven Riley, averaging 14 points and team-leading 3.8 assists per game explained “I think defensively, we’re getting better as a team. We were struggling in that area a little bit in the beginning of the year but I think now we’re actually tuning it, we have all five guys [on the court] buying in on defense now.”

For Sophomore Matt Duniphan, averaging 11.9 points per game and a team leading 7.8 rebounds, hard work at practice has paid off.

“Our defense is definitely a big part of what we do at practice and is a big focus during the games,” Duniphan said, “so what we can take from what we do at practice and translate it to the games makes it that much easier when we’re playing an opponent.”

A former player at Escondido High, Duniphan was honored as PCAC men’s athlete of the week for his performance in the Comet’s third-place finish last month in the Imperial Valley College Holiday Classic.

This defensive goal has been met by the team as they only allow 62 PPG so far this season compared to 65.5 in the 2014/2015 season.

When asked during the recent game against Grossmont, sophomore and leading scorer Ryan Schaefer, 14.1 points per game, broke down the Comets’ strategy against the Griffins by stating “We game planned for a few other guys, and I feel like we executed it pretty well, that gave us a good chance to win defensively.”

Although they’ve played well so far, Comets head coach John O’Neill is still looking for more.

“So far, I don’t really know if we’ve had our best game. They’ve all been different. We’ve had good and bad at each game. I’d say we were most consistent with Mira Costa from beginning to end.”

O’Neill was preparing for the next game at Imperial Valley by looking at their last recorded game.

“They’re good though, they’ve got a lot of weapons. It’s just a matter of can we get stops at the end.”

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Defensive solidity key for Palomar men’s basketball