Class B No. 10 Elkhorn Mount Michael made some big plays late to pull out a 57-52 win against No. 8 South Sioux City on Thursday night.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
If you’ve never been to a game at Mount Michael, it’s a truly unique venue. The gym is small to begin with and the bleachers extend right to the very edge of the court. The student section is always full and raucous, creating a great atmosphere for a high school basketball game.
On Thursday, the two teams gave the assembled fans — including a loud and engaged section of visitors from South Sioux City — a heck of a game to enjoy.
The largest lead for both teams was five as neither side ever managed to create true separation. There were numerous ties and lead changes as the teams traded buckets and runs. The game was tied at 11-11 after one thanks to a buzzer-beating floater from Mount Michael’s Kume Duop, then the second quarter saw an offensive explosion featuring 39 total points, leaving the Cardinals with a 32-29 lead at halftime.
The Knights regrouped at halftime and opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run to take the lead, but the Cardinals rallied to tie it up before a late layup from Trayton Marshall gave Mount Michael a two-point lead heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter saw three ties and four lead changes as it remained a one-possession game almost throughout. South Sioux City took its final lead on a corner 3-pointer from Anthony Earth with just under two minutes to play.
Mount Michael responded with a 9-2 run to close out the game and secure the victory.
Big Shot Long
The guy that keyed the decisive run was the one who has led the way for the Knights all season: junior guard Harrison Long.
It didn’t look like it was going to be Long’s night early as he missed his first five shots from the field plus a free throw. He had a handful of shots circle the rim and pop out. But Long isn’t one to get discouraged by a few misses, and he kept firing away and attacking the basket to finish with 26 points, five rebounds and three steals. He only shot 8-of-21 from the field but was efficient at the line, hitting 7-of-8.
After Earth’s 3 gave South Sioux City the lead, the Knights put the ball in the hands of their leader to answer, and he delivered. Long sized up his defender, crossing him up a few times, then got him off his feet with a head fake on a step-back. As the defender flew by, he gathered himself and elevated for the 3, kicking it down to put the Knights back in front with just over a minute to play.
Mount Michael got a stop and South Sioux City put Long at the free throw line to stop the clock. He hit both free throws to put a cap on his night.
Long has topped 20 points in 11 of his 16 games this season, and he’s gone over 30 in four of them. He’s averaging just under 23 points per game, second in Class B behind only Platteview’s Connor Millikan.
South Sioux City didn’t have a great offensive night while trying to attack Mount Michael’s 1-3-1, which is why 6-foot-5 senior Manny Paul was so important to the Cardinals having a chance to win in the final minute.
Paul finished with 15 points on 5-of-9 from the field (including two high-flying dunks) and 5-of-7 from the free-throw line, 14 rebounds (including seven offensive), four blocks (including a couple of jump shots) and three steals.
Thursday was Paul’s ninth double-double of the season and he’s averaging close to 20 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks for the Cardinals. On an otherwise small, perimeter-oriented team, Paul’s ability to score in the paint, control the glass on both ends and protect the rim has made a significant impact all season long. He was certainly fun to watch on Thursday.
Next Knight Up
Long is Mount Michael’s first and usually second option as he’s taken more than twice as many shots as any other Knight. Their only other double-digit scorer is 6-foot-5 forward Chop Paljor, averaging 10.3 points and shooting 43% from 3.
On Thursday, however, Paljor was in street clothes, sidelined by an ankle injury.
Mount Michael needed others to step up to get the win, and that’s exactly what happened. Junior Kume Duop put up 10 points, five rebounds and three steals. Sophomore forward Kyle Oldehoeft added nine points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Jack Skahan, Will Brewster and Trayton Marshall chipped in four points apiece while the first two combined for 13 rebounds
Mount Michael didn’t get Long’s best performance and it didn’t have Paljor at all, but the Knights still found a way to claw out a big win thanks to contributions from up and down the lineup.
South Sioux Senior Class
South Sioux City hasn’t finished above .500 since Alex Borchers led the Cardinals to a state tournament appearance in 2015. They won two games apiece in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season before improving to 9-14 last season.
After Thursday’s loss, they’re sitting at 8-7, one game shy of equaling last season’s win total with a month or so left in the season. They cracked the top-10 in the NebPreps Coaches Poll after a runner-up finish in the River Cities Conference Tournament, knocking off Omaha Roncalli before falling to Omaha Skutt in the final (no shame in that).
The Cardinals are scrappy this year and have a chance to log their first winning season in eight years thanks in large part to their senior leaders, Paul and Earth. I mentioned what Paul is doing above, but Earth is leading the way for the team at 20.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Earth had an off night from the perimeter, but he still finished with 11 points and hit that go-ahead 3 late in the fourth quarter. He also surpassed 1,000 career points as a Cardinal in the game, and did so in less than two seasons. He began his career at Winnebago (scoring another 270 points as a sophomore) before heading to South Sioux City last year.
South Sioux City has gotten a combined 14 games of 20-plus points from that senior duo so far this season, and any time they’re both playing well, the Cardinals will be a tough out.