Basketball at NSAA Boys Basketball Championship Semi Finals
Photo Credit: John Peterson

5 Thoughts on the 2022 EMC Tournament Championship Games

January 29, 2022

Elkhorn North played host to the Eastern Midlands Conference Tournament championship games on Friday night.

Top-seeded Bennington beat 2021 EMC runner-up Norris in the semifinals Tuesday, while No. 2 Waverly knocked off 2021 tournament champion and third-seeded Elkhorn on the other side of the bracket. On Friday, the Badgers claimed the 2022 title with a 47-38 win over the Vikings.

The girls championship was a rematch of last year’s title game, only this year’s result was different. Top-seeded Elkhorn North beat No. 4 Elkhorn, while No. 2 Norris beat No. 6 Bennington in the semifinals. In the Friday nightcap, the Wolves took down the Titans 54-37.

Here are five thoughts on the games.

Points at a Premium

Defense was certainly the theme of the day.

In the boys game, the teams shot a combined 35.4% from the field. The score at the end of the first quarter was 6-4, and at halftime it was 16-12. The scoring picked up a bit in the second half, but Bennington built up a 10-point lead and salted the game away at the foul line in the fourth.

In the girls game, Elkhorn North set the tone early with its full-court press and half court traps, forcing five first-quarter turnovers and building up a 10-point lead at the end of one. Then in the second quarter, the Titans didn’t score until the 2:32 mark of the period. Elkhorn North built its lead to 19 before the Titans scored the last five points of the period.

Norris got creative with its defense, opening the game in a triangle-and-two (with the two face-guarding Elkhorn North’s top two scorers in sophomore Britt Prince and senior Reilly Palmer. The Titans switched up looks throughout the game, showing a 1-3-1 for stretches and a box-and-one for others. The strategy worked to a certain extent as the Titans held the high-powered Wolves (71.0 points per game) to their second-lowest output of the season. However, sitting back in a zone while trailing by double digits allowed Elkhorn North to chew up a lot of clock in the fourth.

Point Guard Prince

Prince, the stellar sophomore with Division I offers from all over the country (including Nebraska), is already one of the best scorers in the state. She’s put up some big point totals throughout her young career, including 36 in the first game I saw her play this season.

Prince is a terrific shooter and ball-handler with an advanced package of finishes around the basket, and as a 5-foot-11 guard she’s a good athlete as well. She’s skilled and gifted. But what makes her truly special is her feel for the game on top of all of that. She’s an incredible passer, a great cutter and an instinctive defender.

On Friday, Prince was patient and poised regardless of the defensive look Norris threw at her. She attempted just four shots from the field but still finished with 13 points as she shot 9-of-10 at the foul line. She also dished out eight assists (including four in the first quarter as Elkhorn North took control of the game early) while chipping in six rebounds, two steals and one block.

One of the primary beneficiaries of Prince’s playmaking was junior forward Hannah Nadgwick, who matched her with 13 pants and pulled down a game-high eight rebounds. Senior Molly Bruggeman added eight points on 4-of-5 shooting.

As a team, the Wolves shot 54.5% from the field with assists on 14 of their 18 field goals.

Not Norris’ Night

Friday was a showdown of one-loss teams. Elkhorn North’s only loss was to unbeaten Omaha Skutt, while the Titans lost to a good Scottsbluff team.

Watching the Titans play, it was clear they’re a quality team. They’re unselfish and move the ball well, and they have a lot of defensive versatility with size inside and a tenacious defender at the point of attack in Sophia Talero.

They just couldn’t get enough shots to fall to hang with the reigning state champion in Elkhorn North who is even better than they were a year ago. Elkhorn North held the Titans’ leading scorer in Delaney White to just six points and 1-of-5 shooting and Norris shot 6-of-19 from deep as a team.

The Holtz Takeover

The leading scorer for the four teams at Elkhorn North on Friday night was Bennington senior guard Austin Holtz. He finished with 21 points on 50% shooting and also dished out a team-high four assists.

Both teams got off to a slow start (again, 6-4 after the first eight minutes), but Holtz hit a couple of shots in the second quarter to get himself going and then took over in the third. He scored eight of Bennington’s 16 in the third on a variety of difficult pull-up jumpers against the Vikings’ 2-3 zone. He added a layup in the fourth then hit all six of his free throws to seal the game.

Holtz is averaging 17.0 points this season while shooting 46% from the field, 44% from 3 and 73% from the foul line.

Junior Isaac Conner chipped in 10 points and eight boards on Friday as well as the Badgers have won nine straight games.

Waverly Wouldn’t Quit

The Vikings struggled mightily offensively for much of the night, scoring 22 points in the first 24 minutes of play and finding themselves in a 10-point hole heading into the fourth. Waverly continued to fight, however, and battled back into the game.

Senior Riley Marsh came alive with eight points in the fourth including a steal and three-point play to start the quarter and then a 3 to make it a three-point game with 80 seconds to play. Cole Murray and Preston Harms both hit 3s during the comeback as well.

Conner hit a pair of bonus free throws to push the lead back to five and then the Vikings missed two 3s on their next possession, but AJ Heffelfinger rebounded both of them then drew a foul after the second, hitting two shots to make it a one-possession game again. The Badgers missed the front end of the bonus on the other end, but Waverly wasn’t able to take advantage of the mistake as a traveling call turned the ball back over and Holtz closed things out at the charity stripe.

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