The Lions Den at Omaha Roncalli played host to the early favorite for Class B’s game of the year on Friday night as the visiting SkyHawks of Omaha Skutt outlasted the Crimson Pride in overtime for a 65-61 win.
Here are five thoughts on the thriller.
Raucous Roncalli Gym
Roncalli is a fantastic place to watch a high school basketball game, and a game like Friday’s — featuring the top two teams in Class B and conference rivals — takes it up another notch. The two fan bases packed the intimate gym on Friday and were engaged from start to finish, to the point where the noise seemingly had an impact on the game.
Skutt looked to have the game locked up early in the fourth, but Roncalli rallied to send it to overtime and with each play the Crimson Pride made the noise level went up another notch. Led by a packed and rowdy student section, the place went nuts — stomping and screaming and shaking the whole gym — when a SkyHawk stepped to the line for the bonus while trying to hold onto a one-point lead. That’s a tough environment to shoot a free throw in, and the front end was no good.
The SkyHawks rebounded the miss, but senior guard Austin Schwarz stole the ball and drew a foul in the bonus, and it somehow got even louder there. To the SkyHawk faithful’s credit, they brought the noise during Schwarz’s free throws as well, and he ended up splitting them to tie it up, leading to the overtime period.
Roncalli’s staff is great with music during breaks as well and the school boasts the the best concessions stand in the state (try the pulled pork mac and cheese and thank me later). Add all that to the quality product on the floor and you get a great venue for a high school basketball game.
Change of Pace
The game involved multiple swings in terms of the style and pace of play.
The first quarter was high-paced, high-scoring game featuring multiple runs. The Pride jumped out to an 11-4 start, the SkyHawks answered with a 13-2 run and then Roncalli got the last bucket of the period to make it 17-16 Skutt after one. The teams combined to shoot 7-of-10 from 3, and neither side attempted a free throw.
That changed in the second quarter. The level of physicality took a leap and the teams combined to shoot 25% from the field. The Crimson Pride went 6-of-6 at the foul line (compared to 4-of-7 for Skutt) and took a 27-26 lead at halftime.
Field goals were hard to come by in the third quarter as well, especially for Roncalli who made one field goal and went 5-for-10 from the foul line. Skutt had a little more success and opened the quarter on an 11-4 run to take a 37-30 lead.
The SkyHawks took a 39-34 into the fourth quarter and then hit their first three shots, putting together a 7-0 run in the first 70 seconds to stretch the lead to 12. Roncalli settled in after that, though, and made the game hectic for Skutt, forcing seven fourth-quarter turnovers and clawing away at the lead until Schwarz’s tying free throw.
After going 3-for-5 from 3 in the first quarter, the SkyHawks shot 3-of-6 the rest of the way. After the 4-for-5 start, Roncalli shot 2-of-10 the rest of the way including a couple of desperation 3s at the end of OT. Roncalli shot 19-of-27 at the free-throw line in the last three quarters and overtime (and made just 12 field goals). Skutt shot 18 free throws after the first quarter, making nine.
A first quarter shootout turned into a grinder the rest of the way, and the SkyHawks managed to pull it out in the end.
Roncalli showed a lot of resiliency, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime. The game looked like it was over when the SkyHawks opened the fourth quarter with that 7-0 run and jumped ahead 46-34. A lot of teams would have crumbled at that point. The Pride didn’t.
Schwarz and Jake Orr scored eight points apiece in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback, and junior Brent Hellyer made some huge plays as well. The 5-foot-9 guard dove on a loose ball not once but twice to force Skutt turnovers in the fourth, and he added a layup as well — his first field goal of the game — that pulled Roncalli within one with 1:20 to play.
In overtime, the Pride found themselves in another tough spot, coming up empty on their first three possessions and falling behind by four. They rallied to tie it up again, then fell behind by four with 25.5 to play. Orr converted a tough bucket with 12.1 to go to give Roncalli one last chance, but Skutt broke the process and scored to seal the victory.
Battle of the Big Threes
Three players accounted for all of Skutt’s points through the first three quarters, and they finished with 61 of the team’s 65 points in the game.
Senior guard James Gninefou led the way with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting including 3-of-3 from deep, 10 rebounds (four offensive) and three assists. He sealed the victory with an exclamation point as well as he broke free from Roncalli’s press and caught the deep pass, taking it in for a two-handed slam.
Jake Brack, a 6-foot-8 junior, scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter to finish with 20 on 8-of-12 from the field and 4-of-5 from the line. He also secured seven rebounds (three offensive) before fouling out with 96 seconds left in overtime. Black is a fundamentally sound big man who moves his feet well on the perimeter and is attracting next-level interest. Omaha assistant Pat Eberhart was in attendance on Friday to watch Black play.
Rounding out the trio was junior guard JJ Ferrin, one of the better 3-point shooters in the state. He finished with 16 points while shooting 3-of-6 from deep, and he grabbed six rebounds as well.
The Crimson Pride had three players in double figures as well. Skutt did a good job of holding Schwarz and Orr in check through the first three quarters as they had combined for just 15 points, but both of them came alive late to give Roncalli a chance.
Schwarz led the Pride with 18 points, shooting 9-of-11 from the charity stripe including the clutch free throw to get the game to overtime. He added six boards, three assists and two steals. Orr added 17 points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
Sophomore Brady McGill played a big role as well, finishing with 13 points and four boards. The 6-foot-3 forward has a soft touch, connecting on three of his five 3-point attempts including a big one in the fourth quarter. He’ll be a name to watch out for over the next two-and-a-half years.
Top of the Class
The game featured the top two teams in Class B according to the latest NebPreps.com coaches poll, and both teams looked the part on Friday. Roncalli (7-2) beat another Class B contender in Platteview handily on Tuesday, then took the top-ranked SkyHawks down to the wire on Friday.
However, it’s important to note that Skutt was not at full strength. They lost a starter in junior post Mitch Scholl to a knee injury on the first day of practice, and they were without a key perimeter piece on Friday as senior Grant Dvorak missed the game with an illness. Pulling that game out in that environment while playing without two of their top five makes the win all the more impressive.
Up next, Skutt will take on a Class A opponent as Bellevue East visits the SkyHawks on Saturday. Roncalli has a quick turnaround as it will hit the road to take on a good Lafayette team out of St. Charles, Missouri, on Saturday afternoon.
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.