Class C1 contender Ashland-Greenwood took a step up in class to test itself against a Class B school in Elkhorn on Tuesday and scored a 46-45 win on a buzzer-beater to hand the Antlers their first loss.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Right Place, Right Time
The back-and-forth game went down to the final second. After trailing for the entire third quarter and most of the forth, Elkhorn rallied to take the lead on a free throw by Cole Petersen with 1:21 to play.
Brooks Kissinger took it to the rack and scored to regain the lead for the Bluejays with 52 seconds to play, but then Yungtum answered with a driving reverse layup with 25 seconds to play.
Ashland-Greenwood got an open look from the corner that didn’t fall, and Elkhorn rebounded it. The Bluejays fouled with 8.8 to go, but the Antler missed the front end, giving Ashland-Greenwood one more chance.
The Bluejays pushed the ball up the floor and Drake Zimmerman dropped it off to Cade Bridges for another look from the top of the key. It bounced hard off the back of the rim, but Zimmerman found himself in the right place at the right time for a mid-air put-back that went through the net as time expired.
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) December 9, 2022
The 5-foot-9 junior only scored six points and made just two shots all game, but he made the biggest play of the game to improve his team to 2-0.
Change of Pace
Early on, Thursday’s game looked like a bit of a clunker. The Antlers led 8-3 at the end of the first quarter as the teams combined to shoot 4-of-18 from the field with 11 turnovers. Just one of those buckets and eight of those giveaways belonged to the Bluejays, who didn’t score in the first six-and-a-half minutes.
Things heated up in the second quarter, however. After just 11 total points in the first quarter, the teams hit that mark in the first couple minutes of the second as the first five possessions ended in points.
After going bucket for bucket early, the Bluejays took over down the stretch and took the lead heading into halftime. Ashland-Greenwood scored 20 points in the second quarter with eight buckets including two 3-pointers. Elkhorn shot 5-for-10 with two 3s of its own.
The second half followed a similar script with a rough third quarter before both teams turned it up in the fourth, setting the stage for the thrilling finish. The Antlers put up 17 points and only missed two shots from the field in the fourth, but a pair of missed free throws proved costly.
New Era for Elkhorn
Benji Hoegh stepped down back in May after four seasons at the helm of the Antlers. Under Hoegh, Elkhorn played an old-school offensive style built around post play, and on defense, the Antlers ran primarily a 1-3-1 defense.
Elkhorn had success running High’s system, qualifying for the Class A state tournament in 2019 and finishing as Class B runner-up in 2020.
Nick Thompson succeeded Hoegh after serving as an assistant coach on Josh Luedtke’s start at Omaha Creighton Prep. He’s brought a completely different style of basketball to Elkhorn, with a more spread-out, dribble-drive oriented offense and man-to-man defense.
It’s a work in progress for the Antlers learning a new style of basketball, but the change produced immediate results as Elkhorn opened the season with a pair of wins over two talented Class B teams in Waverly and Bennington.
Brooks the Bucket-Getter
Current Nebraska freshman Cale Jacobsen led the Bluejays to a 27-1 record and the Class C1 state title last season. Jacobsen led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
Jacobsen and two other starters graduating opened the door for Brooks Kissinger, the title team’s second-leading scorer, to step into a featured role as a senior.
Kissinger got off to a rough start, missing all three of his field goal attempts and both of his free throws with a couple of turnovers in the first quarter. However, he’s the one who sparked the big second quarter, scoring eight of the team’s 20 points, and he also stepped up in the fourth quarter with three big buckets when the team needed them.
Kissinger scored a game-high 16 points with most of it coming at the rim. He’s a 6-foot-3 guard with long arms who is tough for defenders to stay in front of. As Kissinger goes this year, so too will the Bluejays.
Elkhorn may have lost on Thursday, but the Antlers have the look of a Class B state tournament qualifier.
The Antlers have as much size as anyone in the class outside of Omaha Skutt, starting a 6-foot-5 senior in Yungtum and a 6-foot-7 junior in Petersen while bring 6-foot-5 junior Nate Roberts and 6-foot-4 Charlie Lamski off the bench.
Yungtum is the team’s leading returning scorer and a lefty who can get it done inside and out. He stepped up in the fourth quarter with seven of his nine points including he go-ahead bucket before Ashland-Greenwood’s game-winner. Petersen is a quality rim protector and rebounder who is efficient with his offensive touches (seven points on 2-of-2 shooting and 3-of-4 from the foul line Thursday).
Thompson has some shot-makers in the backcourt as well to provide balance. Colin Comstock, a 6-foot-2 junior, had to deal with foul trouble but still finished with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting including a tough step-back 3 to tie the game with just over two minutes to play.
Senior Dyllan Bertucci, a 5-foot-10 guard, led the Antlers in scoring on Thursday as well with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He’s a strong, stocky guard who hit some difficult shots in the paint, creating offense when little else was working for the Antlers.
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.