Another Friday meant another big-time high school basketball showdown, this one in Class B as Omaha Roncalli hosted Elkhorn Mt. Michael and held on for a quality 63-59 win.
The Crimson Pride (10-2) entered Friday night riding a five-game winning streak including a 65-62 win over Omaha Skutt, while the Knights (9-4) were looking to bounce back from a brutal last-second home loss to Boys Town on Thursday.
Roncalli led throughout most of the first three quarters before Mt. Michael managed to tie it up heading into the fourth quarter. The Pride scored the first six points of the final frame and survived a late rally by the Knights to stretch the winning streak to six.
Here are five thoughts on how it played out.
Jack Dotzler Dominates
Roncalli’s junior point guard — all 5-foot-10 of him — was the best player on the floor on Friday night. He finished with 24 points on 7-of-11 from the field (2-of-4 from 3) and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line, eight assists, five steals and just one turnover (on a charge call).
Dotzler was in complete control all night, setting up his teammates for easy layups on the first two possessions before getting into the scoring mix himself with a layup. He picked apart the Mt. Michael defense — whether it was man-to-man or 1-3-1 zone — all night long, smartly picking his spots to score. He scored eight of his 24 in the fourth, hitting a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter and shooting 5-of-6 from the line to maintain Roncalli’s lead. He also set up a teammate for a dagger 3 midway through the period that pushed the lead to eight.
Dotzler does a terrific job changing speeds and direction to keep defenders off balance, and his go-to spin move is hard to stop, especially with how crafty he is getting his shot off and drawing fouls among the trees in the paint.
Dotzler had a heck of a year on the gridiron as well as Roncalli’s quarterback before suffering gruesome broken arm in the Pride’s playoff loss at Scottsbluff on Nov. 2. According to his dad, Dotzler’s first question for the doctors was ‘How long will I be out?’ The initial answer was eight weeks, but he returned to action two weeks early and is already back to playing like he never got hurt.
Joe Chouinard Guts it Out
Dotzler was the best player on the floor, but Mt. Michael sophomore wing Joe Chouinard had a great game in his own right and did his best to keep the Knights in the game. In addition, he did it while playing on two bad ankles after getting hurt a couple of games prior. Heck, he had to check out two separate times to get his knees taped up because he started bleeding.
Still, despite all that he battled through to lead the Knights in scoring and assists in addition to being the primary defender on Dotzler, making the Roncalli star work for everything he got.
Chouinard finished with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting including 2-of-4 from deep and 4-of-4 from the line and he chipped in four assists as well. He’s shooting right around 60 percent inside the arc and 40 percent from 3 on the season. He’s string and athletic enough to take contact and finish around the rim and also has a reliable floater game in his page for when the defense cuts him off.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
Mt. Michael actually out-shot Roncalli from 2-point range (57.7 percent to 55.2), from 3-point range (45.5 percent to 42.9) and from the free-throw line (100 percent to 61.9) on Friday night. The problem for the Knights is that despite their better scoring efficiency, the Pride outscored them through sheer volume.
The Knights turned the ball over a whopping 20 times — six in the first quarter, five in the second, four in the third and five in the fourth. That was more than twice the number of turnovers than the Pride had. The result was three more 2-point shots, three more 3-point shots and seven more free throw attempts for Roncalli, which the Pride converted into one more 2 and one more 3 as well as one less free throw. That equals the four-point margin of victory for Roncalli.
In a fitting turn of events, it was one final turnover that sealed Mt. Michael’s fate. Chouinard nailed a 3-pointer that pulled the Knights within 3, then Roncalli missed the front end of the bonus, opening the door for the Knights to potential tie it up, or at least pull within one. However, a miscommunication led to a pass hitting a fan in the front row of the crowd. From there, Roncalli hit enough free throws to seal the game.
Alex Rodgers Plays His Role
Alex Rodgers is a four-year letterman on the basketball court and an all-sport star for the Crimson Pride. He’s a terrific athlete who played defensive back, running back, wide receiver and even a little quarterback. His best sport is baseball — he received an offer from Nebraska before signing with Barton Community College.
On the basketball court, he was one of Roncalli’s leading scorers as a sophomore and a junior. But on Friday, he took just four shots, and yet he still managed to make a big impact.
Roncalli starts four guards, and often plays with five of them. That means Rodgers, at 6-foot, has to spend a lot of his time battling with bigger guys. But when the opponent has a talented scoring wing, Rodgers is the guy they turn to to take on the difficult defensive assignment. Watching him defend Chouinard was a lot of fun for a basketball junkie like myself.
Rodgers finished with 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting including that clutch 3 in the fourth quarter and 3-of-6 from the free-throw line with three rebounds, four assists and four steals. Whether he’s taking on a big offensive load like he is more than capable of doing or merely filling a role like he did on Friday, Rodgers is a big difference-maker for the Crimson Pride.
Kaleb Brink is Back
Friday was the second time I’ve seen Mt. Michael play this season. The first time, a 60-49 loss at Gretna during the Gretna Holiday Tournament, the Knights were without their talented sophomore post, Kaleb Brink. Mt. Michael lost him to an injury during the first game of the season, and he ended up missing seven games.
Without Brink, the Knights were heavily perimeter-oriented. Kyle Pelan, another sophomore forward, is having a good season at just under 10 points per game, but he’s much more of a play finisher than a guy who is going to create his own offense around the rim.
Brink is a different story. He’s one of the best post scorers in the 2021 class with great footwork and a soft touch. Mt. Michael coach Derrik Spooner has eased Brink back into the lineup, and he’s seen his production go up in each of his last five games culminating with a 13-point, 6-of-7 shooting, seven-rebound performance against Roncalli.
Brink probably should have had an even better game as he had several mismatches throughout the game and established deep post position several times, but the Knights struggled to make the spot entry pass. As the Knights continue to incorporate Brink into their offense more and more over the next couple of weeks and as Brink continues to get back to 100 percent, they’ll become even more difficult to defend with the likes of Chouinard and Brad Bennett scoring form the perimeter and Brink doing his damage in the paint.
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.