On Thursday night, I made the drive out to Ashland, Nebraska, to catch a Capitol Conference Tournament semifinal between Ashland-Greenwood and Douglas County West.
The host Bluejays got off to a quick start, the visiting Falcons hung around for three quarters than Ashland-Greenwood slammed the door shut in the fourth quarter for a 61-42 win, advancing to the tournament final to face Wahoo.
Here are five thoughts on Thursday’s action.
It’s the Little Things
The final score shows a 19-point win, but the game was much closer than that most of the way. What allowed the Bluejays to take control were the little things.
Ashland-Greenwood shot 15-of-19 from the free-throw line compared to just 10-of-17 for the Falcons. The Bluejays only made two 3-pointers all game, both in the first quarter, but they doubled up the Falcons on field goals inside the arc, 20 to 10. Both sides turned the ball over 12 times, but it felt like a lot more for DC West with a few of those turnovers being live-ball ones that led to Ashland-Greenwood fast breaks.
However, the biggest disparity was on the glass. Ashland-Greenwood grabbed more defensive rebounds than DC West did total as the Bluejays won the battle of the boards 37 to 17. Ashland-Greenwood grabbed 11 offensive rebounds including eight in the second half and that played a big part in the Bluejays pulling away in the fourth.
Center of Attention
Leading the way for DC West most nights is freshman Payson Gillespie, a 6-foot-2 guard averaging just over 17 points per game this season. He’s second among all freshmen in scoring (at least among teams that upload box scores to MaxPreps). I saw Gillespie play all through middle school and know all too well how talented he is.
Gillespie knocked down a quick-trigger 3 on his first touch, then hit a Dirk Nowitzki-esque fadeaway jumper off his back foot for a quick five points. He also finished the game with five points, missing a mid-range jumper later in the first then missing his second 3-point attempt in the second quarter. He didn’t even attempt a shot in the second half.
Ashland-Greenwood did a terrific job of taking Gillespie out of the game with sophomore guard Jarrod Nafzinger leading the defensive effort. Gillespie, who is shooting right around 40 percent from 3, did not get a clean look the rest of the night with a body attached to him all night long, and the Bluejays forced a few turnovers when DC West did get him the ball.
Gillespie scored 22 points in DC West’s tournament win on Monday. He scored 37 points and set a school record with nine 3-pointers earlier in the season. He’s one of the best shooters in the class. The next step is to be able to make an impact even when his shot isn’t falling or he isn’t getting clean looks from the perimeter.
Ashland-Greenwood had its own stud freshman, and he was the best player on the floor on Thursday. Cale Jacobsen, a 6-foot-2 guard, isn’t far behind Gillespie on the freshman scoring chart, and he stuffs the stat sheet outside of points as well.
In Thursday’s win, the lefty finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, game-highs in all three categories. He’s physical and has good footwork, carving out space around the rim for buckets and rebounds. He’s a good passer as well, picking apart the DC West defense early on to get his teammates involved. He knocked down one of his two 3-point attempts as well. Jacobsen had a triple-double earlier in the season and he scored 29 points in Ashland-Greenwood’s win on Monday.
Keep an eye out for both Gillespie and Jacobsen; they’re going to make plenty of noise over the next three-and-a-half years.
Young Falcons Finding Their Wings
DC West started just one senior on Thursday. Five of their top seven are freshmen or sophomores and there are 10 freshmen or sophomores total listed on their varsity roster. This is a really young team, yet the Falcons are still 9-8 at this point.
In addition to Gillespie, DC West also has sophomore Kyle Marick as a double-digit scorer, second on the team behind Gillespie at just over 11 points per game. He shot 2-of-5 from 3 and led DC West with 10 points against Ashland-Greenwood.
A big factor in Thursday’s game was foul trouble for sophomore point guard Carson Roubicek. He picked up two quick fouls and had to take a seat, then picked up a third early in the second quarter as well. In his limited minutes, he finished with seven points and four assists. He can score, but his passing is his best skill — he’s leading all sophomores in assists (and it is a class rich in point guard talent) and is fourth overall at almost six per game. Roubicek is also averaging just under 10 points and just over five rebounds.
If DC West can find a way to replace 6-foot-4 senior Ty Eggen’s interior production, the Falcons will have a chance to make some noise in Class C-1 over the next couple of years.
Beautiful Ball Movement
DC West opened in a 2-3 zone defensively. A common tactic to beat zone defenses is to shoot the other team out of it. Ashland-Greenwood only shot 2-of-14 from 3 on Thursday yet still found a way to force DC West into man-to-man defense.
The key was Ashland-Greenwood’s ball movement. The Bluejays kept the ball popping all night with three, four, five guys touching the ball on every possessions. They got the ball into the gaps in the zone and their interior passing was particularly impressive, using high-low or block-to-block passing to set up teammates for easy buckets. Ashland-Greenwood beat the DC West defense down the court a few times as well with some hit-ahead passes in transition for layups.
Six of Ashland-Greenwood’s eight rotation players recorded at least one assist. My favorite play of the night was a fast break where one Bluejay passed the ball ahead to junior Bryce Kitrell (brother of former Nebraska walk-on Bo Kitrell and a good football player in his own right) who skied to catch the ball (the pass was little high) and in one motion he caught and passed it back to senior Nick Schulz who was trailing on the other side of the rim for a layup.
I love watching great passing, and I saw plenty of it at Ashland on Thursday night.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.