On Saturday night, Elkhorn South took Omaha Central down to the wire on its own court, but the Eagles managed to gut out a tough win 56-51.
The Storm jumped out to a 17-14 lead after one quarter, the Eagles pulled ahead 28-27 at half and the third quarter saw a couple of ties and lead changes. Elkhorn South pulled ahead 47-44 with less than five minutes to play but Central took back the lead, 51-49, on a bucket by junior Max Polk and the Eagles closed it out from there at the free-throw line and on defense.
Here are five thoughts on Saturday’s action.
Cold Night in Downtown Omaha
Omaha Central is one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the state at 38 percent with all five of Saturday’s starters at 36 percent or better heading into the game. You wouldn’t have known that if you watched the game, however.
The Eagles shot 0-of-10 from deep in the first quarter and 0-of-14 in the first half, then missed their first two attempts of the third quarter before finally getting one to fall. Central hit two more to close out the third before missing all three in the fourth quarter. Overall, that’s 3-of-22 (13.6 percent).
Elkhorn South didn’t do any better, however. Elkhorn South knocked down two early 3s in the first quarter, and two is the final tally for the game as the Storm shot 2-of-14 (14.3 percent).
Even so, Elkhorn South found a way to come darn close to pulling off the upset, and the Eagles found a way to gut out a win despite not being able to buy a bucket from deep.
Lockdown Latrell Wrightsell Jr.
Saturday night wasn’t Latrell Wrightsell Jr.’s best game by any means. In fact, it was his first game all season without a 3-pointer. He finished with nine points on 4-of-13 shooting including 0-of-6 from deep.
However, Wrightsell still made a huge impact on the game on the defensive end. The 6-foot-1 junior is one of the best on-ball defenders in the state and he showed that again against the Storm. Elkhorn South has a talented sophomore point guard in Preston Murphy, and Wrightsell held him to seven points (half his season average) on 1-of-10 from the field. Wrightsell blew up a lot of what Elkhorn South was trying to do on offense at the point of attack, no matter who he was guarding.
Wrightsell is making a strong case for himself as the best 3-and-D prospect in the 2020 class.
The Polish Pistol
Elkhorn South’s leading scorer should sound familiar to Nebraska fans. Senior Jace Piatkowski, a 6-foot-3 wing, is the son of former Husker great and NBA player Eric Piatkowski.
Piatkowski is averaging 18.5 points this season for the Storm, making him one of the top-10 scorers in Class A. He’s a good shooter as well as a really good athlete, allowing him to score at all three levels.
With his dad cheering him on, Piatkowski put up 19 points against the Eagles. The Storm held a 17-14 lead after the first quarter and Piatkowski was the biggest reason why. He put up 11 points in the first quarter alone including a pair of 3s (the only ones Elkhorn South made all game) and a three-point play. Piatkowski had some good looks late that he couldn’t get to fall, but he still had a good game and showed off what makes him such a dangerous scorer.
John Tonje Time
Like Wrightsell, Class A’s leading scorer John Tonje had an off-day shooting-wise. The near-40 percent shooter was just 2-of-9 from deep against Elkhorn South including 0-of-5 in the first quarter. He had just nine points at halftime.
Credit to Elkhorn South’s defense, particularly that of junior forward Zach LaFave. LaFave is one of the few players who can come close to matching Tonje’s size and athleticism. The 6-foot-5 forward had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds and made things tough for Tonje.
Even so, Tonje got on track in the second half, putting up 16 points to get to 25 for the game. He knocked down a coulee of big 3s in the third quarter, then grabbed some tough rebounds in the fourth quarter and hit enough are throws for Central to seal the win.
I’ve said it many times already, but he’s a Division I player.
Can’t Score if you Don’t Have the Ball
Neither team played all that well offensively, but Elkhorn South actually shot a little bitter from both the field and the free-throw line than Central did. However, the Eagles won the game with sheer volume. They nearly doubled the Storm in field goal attempts in the first half and ended up taking 19 more shots total.
The biggest problem for the Storm was ball security. Elkhorn South turned the ball over 19 times while Central did so just five times. Central also crashed the glass hard, out-rebounding the Eagles 12 to six on the offensive end. Sophomore guard Faisaun Germany led the way with five offensive boards, but six other Eagles got in the action as well.
Elkhorn South was slightly more efficient from everywhere on the court, but in this case, volume trumped efficiency.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.