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5 Thoughts on Gretna’s A-5 District Final Win over Lincoln Southwest

March 03, 2022

Gretna fended off Lincoln Southwest in the A-5 District Final on Wednesday night for a 59-54 double-overtime win, punching its ticket to the state tournament.

Here are five thoughts on the game.

Down to the Wire

I had a tough time picking which game to cover throughout the day on Wednesday, but I’d say I ended up making a pretty good decision. The atmosphere at Gretna was terrific with a packed gym including two full student sections, and the crowd was engaged and intense from start to finish.

Gretna pulled ahead midway through the first and maintained its advantage throughout the game until the final minute of regulation. After falling behind by as much as 11, the Silver Hawks chipped away at the lead until they trailed 43-40 with three minutes to go. After nearly two minutes of scoreless play, Ben Hunker set up Grant Milk for a 3 to tie it up at 43-all with 70 seconds to go.

Gretna ran down the clock until Southwest used its foul to give with three seconds remaining, setting up a sideline play for the Dragons. They got the ball in than kicked it back to the in-bounder, Alex Wilcoxson, for a deep 3 at the buzzer, but it didn’t go down.

In the first overtime, Southwest scored then Gretna answered. The Silver Hawks scored again and the Dragons responded with 15 seconds left to tie it up. Gretna forced a turnover on the other end and got another look from 3 at the buzzer, but that one didn’t go down either.

Mielak opened the second overtime with a 3, but Gretna responded with an 8-0 run with most of the damage happening at the free-throw line. The Dragons pulled ahead 55-50 with 59.6 to play. Rylan Smith scored at the rim with 40.5 to play to cut into the lead, then out of a timeout the Silver Hawks forced a turnover with their pressure and got a layup to make it a one-point game with 33.7 to play.

Out of another timeout, Gretna went long on the in-bounds play and hit senior Brayden Chaney for a breakaway layup. Southwest’s got two looks at 3-pointers on the next possession, but misfired both times and Chaney hit two free throws with 15 seconds left to seal the victory.

Gretna Bigs Shoulder the Load

Gretna is a guard-driven team with sophomores Landon Pokorski and Alex Wilcoxson combing to average just over 30 points per game, but on Wednesday it was the big men who led the way.

Senior center Grant Jansen picked up two fouls int he first four minutes of the game, though Gretna coach Brad Feeken did a good job of managing his minutes in the first half with some offense-defense substitutions to keep him involved, and he made it to the second half without picking up another foul.

Jansen made it the rest of the game without fouling out and had a huge second half, scoring 15 of his team-high 19 after halftime. He shot 6-of-8 from the filed and 7-of-10 from the foul line, grabbed nine rebounds (four offensive), blocked two shots and nabbed one steal. Six of his free throws came in the overtimes and he hit five of them.

Jansen also got some help in the frontcourt from 6-foot-5 junior Jeff Rozelle. He put up 10 points on 4-of-4 form the field and 2-of-2 from the line and grabbed 12 rebounds including four on the offensive end. He had a big buzzer-beating put-back at the end of the first quarter to put the Silver Hawks up 13-8 and had a number of contested rebounds above the rim, showing off his length and athleticism.

Benny Buckets

Southwest only had one senior in its starting lineup in Ben Hunzeker, and he left everything he had out on the court in his final game as a Silver Hawk. The 6-foot-3 guard put up a game-high 23 points on 8-of-17 from the field (3-of-6 from 3) and 4-of-6 from the foul line with four assists. 

On a night when the Silver Hawks had a tough time getting the ball to go through the hoop, Hunzeker put the team on his back. He scored six of their eight points in the first quarter, then exploded for 12 of their 15 in the third including a 3 at the buzzer that cut Gretna’s lead down to 36-29.

Hunzeker scored the final go-ahead layup in the first overtime before the Dragons answered, but he fouled out in the second overtime with 1:36 to play and the Silver Hawks 53-50.

Hunzeker broke the school’s career scoring record in Southwest’s district semifinal win over Omaha South on Monday and finishes his career with 727 points. He also set a new school record for steal in that game, recording 70 of them this season after nabbing one more on Wednesday.

Points at a Premium

Wednesday was certainly a fiercely competitive game, but it wasn’t a particularly aesthetically appealing one if you’re a fan of offense. 

The score was 21-14 at halftime as neither team managed to crack double digits in the second quarter. Gretna scored just seven points in the fourth quarter, which opened the door for Southwest to rally. The teams scored four points apiece in the first overtime and most of Gretna’s points came from the foul line in the second overtime.

With defensive coordinator Bill Heard pulling strings form the sideline, Gretna’s shifting defenses and six inside caused all kinds of problems for the Silver Hawks. They made just two buckets in each of the first two quarters, shooting 4-of-24 from the field. They improved slightly in the second half as 3s started to fall, but they went ice-cold again in the second overtime, shooting 3-of-12 including 1-of-6 from 3. Overall, Southwest shot 27.7% from the field.

Conversely, Southwest’s length and athleticism across the board caused plenty of problems for the Dragons. The shortest player who took the court for the Silver Hawks is 6-foot-2 and Southwest had six players 6-foot-5 or taller in its nine-man rotation. Gretna is a good 3-point shooting team, but the Dragons went 1-for-8 from deep on Wednesday and shot 41.7% overall with 14 turnovers. Gretna won the game at the charity stripe, shooting 18-of-28 compared to Southwest’s 10-of-16.

Field of Eight

Elsewhere in Class A, the top three seeds to took care of business relatively easily as Millard North raced past Omaha North 81-57 in A-1, Bellevue West nearly doubled up Millard South with a 61-31 win in A-2 and Omaha Westside shot the lights out in a 90-61 victory over Lincoln East in A-3.

The biggest upset of the night came in A-4 as Alec Noonan exploded for 27 points to lead Elkhorn South to a 72-53 win at Omaha Central. The Storm qualified for the state tournament for the first time since moving up to Class A. The only other road team to punch its ticket was Lincoln Pius X, who beat Papillion-La Vista South 61-46 in A-7.

Like A-5, it took more than 32 minutes to determine a winner in A-6 — 12 more minutes, to be exact. Omaha Creighton Prep beat Lincoln Northeast 57-45 in triple-overtime. The Junior Jays scored in the final minute to pull even with the Rockets then got a stop to send the game to overtime. Neither team scored in the first two extra periods, then Prep dominated the third 16-4 to advance to state for the eighth straight year.

With the top three seeds winning, Omaha Central will make the field as the wildcard, joining the seven district winners at the state tournament next week.

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