Gretna has moved up to the Class A ranks, but because of the scheduling cycles the Dragons have been stuck with a Class B schedule for one more season. That means fans got one more showdown between Gretna and Class B perennial Power Omaha Skutt on Tuesday.
The Dragons jumped out to a 15-5 lead after the first quarter, but Skutt dominated the rest of the way in a game that had many in the gym calling for an immediate introduction of a shot clock. Despite the slow start — and the slow pace of the game — the SkyHawks pulled away for a 45-34 win, handing the Dragons just their third loss of the season.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Best Man Wins
Tuesday’s game was a good battle between two quality teams, but at the end of the day, it was an individual that made all the difference.
Skutt had Tyson Gordon, and Gretna didn’t. Game over.
The 6-foot-3 guard was the best player on the floor and made his presence felt in every phase of the game. He finished with 20 points on 4-of-6 from the field and 12-of-12 from the free-throw line with six rebounds (two offensive), two assists, three blocks and one steal.
Gordon put together a personal 6-0 run to give the SkyHawks a three-possession lead early in the third quarter, then he took over in the fourth as well, scoring 10 of his 20 and hitting all eight of his free-throw attempts.
Leading 37-32, Gordon missed a shot in the lane. The rebound bounced around and Gordon dived to the floor after it, ripping it free from a scrum and getting possession so Skutt could call a timeout. When play resumed, Gordon set up a teammate for a layup. After hitting a pair of free throws, he blocked a Gretna 3-point attempt.
Gordon proved to be too much for Gretna to handle, and that has been the case for a lot of teams this season and will continue to be so throughout the postseason.
Pace of Play
Gretna’s goal for the game was clearly to control the pace of play, and that is exactly what the Dragons did.
Defensively, Gretna opened in a modified 3-2 defense with the point man hanging back near the free-throw line, cutting down driving opportunities for Skutt. Early on, the zone gave Skutt fits as Gretna jumped out to a 9-0 lead thanks to five early Skutt turnovers.
Offensively, even when Skutt used a full-court press, Gretna took things slow, pulling the ball out after breaking the press rather than attacking. In the halfcourt, the Dragons were incredibly patient, turning down look after look until they had a great look time after time.
The score was 15-5 after one, 18-15 after two and 28-20 after 3 before both teams picked up the scoring in the fourth (thanks primarily to the free-throw line). Gretna attempted just 31 field goals and Skutt just 25.
The Dragons executed their game plan pretty well, they just couldn’t get enough shots to go down to keep up. Foul trouble to junior forward Ely Doble played a big part in this game as well; he picked up his third and fourth fouls less than two minutes into the third quarter.
SkyHawks Sit Down and Guard
Gretna certainly wanted to slow the game down, but Skutt’s defense had a huge part in the pace of the game as well and particularly that of Skutt’s guards. Gretna had a hard time finding cracks in the Skutt defense to attack in the halfcourt.
As usual, junior Andrew Merfeld set the tone at the point of attack. He was the primary defender on Gretna senior point guard Tre’ Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen got off to a quick start with six of Gretna’s first eight points, but he scored one point in the second and third quarter combined and Merfeld was a big part of that.
Gordon is a terrific defender as well, and he guarded anyone and everyone Gretna rolled out there including Mikkelsen, using his length and quickness to make things tough.
Senior Jake Kudron only scored two points on Tuesday, but he still made a big contribution on defense. He was glued to Gretna’s best 3-point shooter, junior Hershal Vuksich. Vuksich only got two shots off from deep, making one, and he finished with six points and two turnovers. Between Kudron’s defense on Vuksich and Doble’s foul trouble, Gretna just didn’t have enough offense outside of Mikkelsen to keep up with the SkyHawks.
Gretna didn’t come away with the win, but the Dragons did show terrific fight all game long. It’s not often a team can overcome scoring a total of five points in two quarters and still be in the game, but that’s exactly what Gretna did.
Add in the foul trouble to Doble and the fact that Gretna cut it down to a two-possession game a couple of times in the fourth. Clay Frost and Doble both hit clutch 3s to give Gretna a chance and Mikkelsen kept getting to the free-throw line and converted one tough bucket inside.
Gretna turned to the intentional foul strategy with Skutt senior center TJ Skradski, and he missed four straight free throws before finally making one. However, Skutt took Skradski out and didn’t miss again from the line, ending Gretna’s comeback attempt.
Fletcher Fills the Void
Skutt has been hit hard by the injury bug this season, losing a couple of potential frontcourt contributors in seniors Ryan McCormick and Grant Healy. Without them, the SkyHawks only have five real contributors back from last season’s state runner-up, one of them being a reserve guard.
That leaves one hole in the starting lineup, the four spot next to Skradski. McCormick might have filled that role had he been healthy this season, but that’s not how things played out.
Senior Ryan Doble was pegged as the starter to open the season, but recently sophomore Charlie Fletcher has taken over that spot. Listed at 6-foot-1, Fletcher gives up a bit in size (Doble is 6-foot-3) but offers more versatility with his ability to guard on the perimeter. Offensively, Fletcher has good footwork and can really attack the basket, adding another downhill driving option to go with Gordon and Merfeld, and he can knock down the occasional jumper as well.
On Tuesday, Fletcher hit all four of his shots including a 3-pointer to finish with nine points, second on the team behind Gordon. That’s the kind of production Skutt will need from him if the SkyHawks hope to get back to the state championship game.