Friday night’s showdown in Bellevue between Omaha Westside and Bellevue West lost a bit of luster when Westside guard Jadin Booth showed up in a walking boot, but 2021 Nebraska target Chucky Hepburn was worth the price of admission all on his own as the Thunderbirds (7-1) took down the Warriors (5-2) 83-66 in the Thunderdome.
Bellevue West led by seven after one and by 15 at halftime before pushing the lead over 20 midway through the third quarter. The Warriors cut it all the way down to 12 at one point in the fourth quarter but could get no closer as the T-Birds cruised to the win.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Chucky Hepburn Checks All the Boxes
It’s not hard to see why Nebraska has taken such an interest in the young floor general. He completely dominated that game on Friday night, and he did it in pretty much every way possible.
The 6-foot point guard finished with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting (1-of-3 from 3) and 4-of-5 from the line with nine assists, five rebounds, two steals and just one turnover. He spent most of the first quarter running offense and getting his teammates open looks, taking things into his own hands for a couple of tough buckets later in possessions.
He took over as a scorer in the second quarter, totaling 12 points in the period. He finished the half with 17 points and seven assists.
Hepburn played well defensively, forcing a couple of turnovers and playing smart help defense all night. He took a charge at one point and also ripped the ball away from a Westside guard while playing at the point of attack in the press, immediately feeding a teammate for a layup.
Some clips of 2021 #Nebrasketball target Chucky Hepburn from Bellevue West's win over Westside.
The most impressive thing about him is how many ways he routinely impacts a game – scoring at the rim, hitting jumpers, making plays for others, locking down on defense, hustling. pic.twitter.com/RhEe3vUVb8
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) December 22, 2018
Hepburn plays hard all the time, and he has the skills to impact the game in all of its phases.
Booth is a Big Loss
For the most part, the Warriors actually played fairly well despite the lopsided score. They shot almost 50 percent from the field and only turned the ball over eight times, and Chase Thompson and PJ Ngambi stepped up in a big way.
However, without their best guard the Warriors simply didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with the Thunderbirds. Booth, who holds an offer from Omaha, leads the team in free throws and assists and is second in scoring. He’s the team’s best ball-handler and would have helped against the full-court press that Bellevue West used to create separation in the second quarter. Bellevue West had to rely on its freshman guards in a tough spot, though that experience will only help them down the line.
Booth’s injury is minor and he should return after the moratorium for the Metro Holiday Tournament. Perhaps we’ll even get a rematch of one of the best games from last year’s tournament — a 55-54 come-from-behind win for Westside over Bellevue West.
Big Night for Nico
Westside opened the game playing zone on defense, hoping to disrupt the Bellevue West attack. It didn’t work, in large part because of Nico Felici. The senior guard knocked down his first three triples, shooting the Warriors right out of that zone, and he didn’t slow down any from there.
Felici finished with a career-high 27 points on 10-of-18 from the field and 4-of-5 from the line. He had struggled to find his perimeter shot so far this season, hitting just four of his 17 attempts heading into Friday’s game. When the 3-ball is falling for him, he becomes a dangerous three-level scorer and Bellevue West becomes really hard to guard.
Westside senior forward Chase Thompson has always had a knack for scoring, but he’s taken it to a new level this season. Thompson cut 35 pounds over the offseason and it’s really showing in his game.
Thompson is averaging nearly 20 points per game this season after putting up 25 and seven boards against the Thunderbirds on Friday. He shot 9-of-14 from the field including 1-of-2 from deep and 6-of-8 from the free-throw line.
At 6-foot-6, Thompson has a strong frame and knows how to use it. If he has a smaller defender on him — which happened several times throughout the game on Friday — he takes them down to the post and plays bully ball, showing off good foot work and a soft touch. There aren’t many bigs who can guard him either as he has the ability to put the ball on the deck as well, blowing past West’s 6-foot-8 centers a handful of times to score at the rim or draw a foul.
Thompson is converting from both inside the arc and at the charity stripe at a career-best rate, and he’s not settling for as many jumpers as he has in the past, though still knocking them down enough to keep defenses’s honest (five 3s in seven games).
Thompson is a match-up nightmare and when you put him together with Booth, Ngambi (10. 3 points and 3.0 assists per game) and junior Carl Brown (11 points per game, 44 percent from 3), the Warriors have a dangerous offensive core.
Where There’s Thunder, There’s Lightning
Bellevue West put on an offensive clinic on Friday night, shooting 56 percent from the field (65 percent inside the arc) and 10-of-13 from the free-throw line with 14 assists and just seven turnovers.
West got big contributions from it’s two lead guards in Hepburn and Felici (who outscored Westside 32-29 by themselves in the first half), and it got good contributions up and down the lineup as well.
Junior guard David Nuor (who just erupted for 30 points in a game last week) chipped in 11 points and Junior forward Louis Fidler chipped in 10 on 5-of-7 shooting. Four different players scored a bucket off the bench as well.
“If we keep that up, we’re going to win state; there’s no doubt,” Hepburn told Hail Varsity. “ There’s no team that can stop us like that.”
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.