I’ll be heading up to Minneapolis for volleyball and Sioux Falls for basketball the rest of the week, so I decided to try to squeeze my high school basketball game in early this week.
The schedule was light on Tuesday so I made my back downtown in Omaha to watch the Central Eagles once again. They hosted Omaha Burke on Tuesday and this one went a little bit different than the game I saw there last week.
The Eagles (3-1) blew out the Bulldogs (0-4) 76-53 as two Central players combined for 60 points by themselves. Here are five thoughts on the game.
John Tonje Gets Buckets
I just wrote about John Tonje on Thursday, but I have to lead off with him once again. After putting up 26 points in a loss to Skutt last Thursday, Tonje stepped it up on Tuesday and put up a new career high with 33 points, besting the 31-point performance he had against Millard South last season.
Tonje finished with 33 on 12-of-21 shooting including 5-of-10 from 3 and 2-of-3 at the foul line. He chipped in three rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks as well, stuffing the stat sheet.
Against the SkyHawks, Tonje got his points at the free-throw line, setting a school recored with 16 makes on 18 attempts, though he struggled to hit shots from the field as he was just 4-of-12. He showcased a different part of his game on Tuesday, however, knocking down five 3s. Three or four of this treys were of the step-back variety. Heck, at one point he turned down a catch-and-shoot look to dribble into a step-back instead and buried it.
Tonje has always been a knockdown shooter, but the rest of his game has really come around in the past year or so and he’s now as comfortable or more so shooting off that dribble than he is off the catch.
He threw in a couple off impressive finishes off the glass as well for good measure, continuing to show off a much-improved handle. Tonje looks like the most complete scorer in the state at this point and should lead Class A in scoring, if not the whole state. He’s worth the price of admission by himself for any hoops junkies out there.
Max Polk Bounces Back
Max Polk, the junior point guard for the Eagles, struggled in Central’s loss to Skutt last week but he bounced back with a career-high against the Bulldogs.
Polk finished with 27 points on 9-of-19 from the field, 3-of-6 from 3 and 6-of-6 from the foul line. He chipped in seven boards and four assists. After starting the season 3-of-12 from deep, Polk found his touch on Thursday and although his shot is unorthodox, he makes it work for him as he shout 42 percent from deep as a sophomore.
Polk does a good job of getting to his spots, either backing his defender down off the bounce or beating him off the dribble, and he has the ability to hit tough in-between shots over the top of the defense with runners, push-shots and fade-aways. However, that being said, Polk’s efficiency sometimes suffers because he plays for those shots too often and those are tough ones to make consistently. If he can improve his off-hand a bit and look to use that in-between game as a counter rather than his go-to, look out.
Regardless, with Latrell Wrightsell Jr. on injured reserve, that is the kind of performance Central needs from Polk.
Central’s Length Wreaks Havoc
Central’s roster is loaded with length up and down the lineup, and that length made it really tough for the Bulldogs to score inside.
With Tonje and sophomore Jason Warner at 6-foot-5 as well as Teth Tut, Goy Panom, Edda Nyiwe and Scott Warner at 6-foot-4, the Eagles have the size and flexibility to throw out some really long lineups and they did that on Tuesday.
I had Central down for at least 11 blocks and six steals, and there were several other altered shots as well. Burke shot around 35 percent inside the arc, and though they shot better from the perimeter Central only allowed them to get off 12 attempts including a couple in garbage time at the end.
Xavier Watts Excels on the Gridiron and the Court
Xavier Watts, a 2020 target for the Huskers on the football field, is also a three-year varsity letterman for the Bulldogs and is the team’s leading returning scorer from last season. Fresh off a state title run in football, Watts was clearly a little rusty on Tuesday as he’s transitioning to his second sport, but even so he had some good stretches as well.
Just like on the football field, Watts is a tough player who does a lot of things for his team. He was the first one to take on the challenge of defending Tonje. He missed his first four shots, going scoreless in the first quarter, but he finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two steals. He converted a three-point play, drew two shooting fouls, made all his free throws and knocked down one of his two 3-pointers.
Once he rounds into basketball form, expect a big second half from the junior guard.
Jaren Marshall Leads the Charge
At the end of the first quarter, it looked like things were going to get ugly as the Eagles led 22-4. However, instead of giving up, the Bulldogs fought back, cutting their deficit to 12 at one point and outscoring the Eagles in the second and third quarters.
Tonje and Polk combined for 17 points in the fourth to stretch the lead back out and put the Bulldogs away for good, but the Bulldogs did well considering they shot 2-of-12 from the field in the first quarter.
Jaren Marshall, a sophomore combo-guard, was the one who led the charge. He scored eight of his team-high 19 points in the second quarter to jump-start the Burke offense. Marshall shot 6-of-12 from the field and 2-of-4 from 3, finishing at the rim in impressive fashion a couple f times and knocking down a few jumpers. He could have easily dropped 20-plus if he had shot a little better at the free-throw line as he was just 5-of-9 including a missed front-end in the bonus.
The 2021 class is loaded with talented combo guards, and Marshall is certainly one of them.
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.