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5 Thoughts on Millard North at Omaha Westside
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

5 Thoughts on Millard North at Omaha Westside

February 27, 2019

Tuesday was the last day of district play for boys high school basketball as the final five teams in Class A punched their tickets to the state tournament. Among them was Omaha Westside who is headed back to state for the first time since the Warriors’ runner-up finishing Class A to Bellevue West in 2014.

Tuesday’s A-6 district final at Westside against Millard North went down to the wire and saw a crazy final minute that culminated in a miraculous buzzer-beating 3 by Westside junior Carl Brown.

Here are five thoughts on the instant classic between the Warriors and Mustangs.

The Best Thing I Saw Tuesday

The way the game ended turned it into an instant classic and one of the most exciting games I saw all year. Millard North took the lead with the clock winding down but Westside called a timeout immediately after the ball went through the rim, leaving the Warriors 1.6 seconds to make a play.

Westside has two 1,000-point scorers, but neither one of them took the winning shot. No, that was junior forward Carl Brown.

Westside in-bounded the ball to senior Chase Thompson at center court and he passed it up ahead to Brown for this shot:

It was his second triple of the fourth quarter and third of the game, and it sent the Warriors to the state tournament. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.

He also led off Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter on ESPN.

Seniors Step Up

We were 1.6 seconds away from a very different story headlining this game.

Back in June, Millard North senior Bret Porter (the son, grandson and great grandson of Nebraska football players) tore his ACL. He was the team’s leading returning scorer. Typically, ACL rehabilitation takes six to eight months or more.

Porter made it back onto the court less than five months after his injury. He missed just two games for Millard North.

Porter came off the bench initially, seeing his minutes rise as he continued to build up his strength and get back into game shape. By the end of the season, he was starting again. He never quite got back to full strength (he only scored in double figures three times after scoring 13.4 per game as a junior) but the fact that he was even playing at all was a minor miracle.

When Millard North was down by one and was struggling to get the ball into Hunter Sallis’ hands, Porter took matters into his own hands.

He only scored two buckets all game, but both were in the fourth quarter included what was very close to being the game-winner.

Porter wasn’t the only Millard North senior that made big plays, however. Senior point guard Jake Rueschhoff is fourth in Class A in total assists, averaging 4.1 per game to go with his 6.5 points. He’s normally content to run the offense and get the ball to his scorers.

On Tuesday, however, he WAS the scorer. Rueschhoff put up a season-high 18 points and tied his career-high with four made 3s (on six attempts). Rueschhoff hit his first three shots, scoring seven of Millard North’s 13 first-quarter points. When Westside built up a 10-point, Millard North rallied with a 10-2 run including a pair of 3s by Rueschhoff. In the fourth quarter, he hit another 3 to pull Millard North within one, then sank two free throws that gave the Mustangs a 51-58 lead with less than a minute on the clock.

Rueschhoff saved his best for last and left everything he had on that court on Tuesday night.

For the Warriors, Brown wasn’t the only hero. Senior forward Chase Thompson, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer last week, led the way for the Warriors with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and nine rebounds (seven offensive). He hit a 3 to tie the game at 51-all with less than 40 seconds to play.

And of course, he had the game-winning assist as shown above. Thompson hit just one field goal in each of the first three quarters but came alive in the fourth quarter to score 10 of Westside’s 20.

Tale of Two Halves

Tuesday’s game turned into an instant classic, but it was looking like something of a dud early on as both teams struggled mightily on the offensive end. 

Westside shot 5-of-20 from the field in the second half and turned the ball over seven times yet still managed to get to 21 points thanks to 8-of-10 shooting form the free-throw line. The Warriors didn’t score in the second quarter until the 4:05 mark when Thompson hit a pair of free throws. 

Millard North didn’t score its first points in the second quarter until a put-back by junior forward Max Murrell at the 1:35 mark and they scored five total points in the period. The Mustangs trailed 21-18 at the half.

Things picked up a little after halftime and that set the stage for a fantastic fourth quarter. Westside looked like it was going to run away with it but the Mustangs rallied to pull within two at the end of the third.

After combining for 39 points in the first half, the teams with off for 41 in the fourth. Westside shot 8-of-10 from the field (3-of-3 from 3) and 1-of-1 from he foul line in the fourth while Millard North shot 7-of-9 from the field, 2-of-2 from 3 and 5-of-8 from the line. The best players for each team stepped up in the clutch and we got the bucket-for-bucket finish described above.

Hunter Sallis Steps Up

The 2021 Nebraska target from Millard North struggled quite a bit in the first three quarters. He was 3-of-8 from the field with just two free throw attempts heading into the fourth quarter.

He did hit this shot, though, which was pretty cool.

But with the chips on the line, Sallis stepped up and was the best player on the floor in the fourth. He scored 12 of his game-high 21 points. He hit some tough shots and displayed terrific body control and toughness in the process, showing why he’s such a highly-touted prospect.

He was also the primary defender on Westside star guard Jadin Booth and made life tough on the junior with his length and quick feet. Booth finished with 15 points on 5-of-12 from the field and five turnovers. Nebraska assistant coach Michael Lewis was in the crowd for the game to watch Sallis play.

Feisty Freshmen

A big part of Sallis’ early struggles was Westside’s defense. The Warriors mixed in a lot of 2-3 zone throughout the game and that limited Sallis’ driving opportunities, but they played plenty of man-to-man as well and when that was the case, it was most often freshman guards Chandler Meeks and Reggie Thomas who drew the assignment.

Meeks worked his way into the starting lineup after starting the season on the bench and Thomas has grown into the team’s sixth man. Both are tenacious on-ball defenders that really get up in their man’s space and make life difficult. They move their feet well, they fight through screens and they have quick hands. In addition to their defensive work against Millard North, each of them chipped in four points as well.

With Meeks and Thomas in the lineup for the next three years, the Warriors will have a claim for the best defensive backcourt in the state. 

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