Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Millard North, Bellevue West Advance to Metro Holiday Tournament Final

December 31, 2020

The seedings held to form throughout the boys side of the Metro Holiday Tournament, setting up a semifinal round at Creighton Prep that featured four undefeated teams in No. 1 Millard North, No. 2 Bellevue West, No. 3 Omaha Creighton Prep and No. 4 Omaha Central.

Both the lower seeds showed why they had yet to lose a game on Thursday, but the top two teams in the state both pulled away down the stretch to punch their tickets to the final and set up a rematch of last year’s state championship game.

No. 1 Millard North will take on No. 2 Bellevue West in Saturday’s final at Creighton Prep. Tipoff is set for 7:15 p.m.

No. 1 Millard North 73, No. 4 Omaha Central 60

Millard North has one of the biggest teams in the state while Omaha Central has one of the smallest. That set up a contrast of styles on Thursday afternoon, and while the Eagles’ athleticism and five-guard lineup gave the Mustangs problems in the first half, Millard North’s size proved to be too much in the end.

Central senior Denim Johnson set the tone in the first half, dominating the offensive glass with his explosive leaping ability and putting up 12 points. A reverse dunk by Johnson gave the Eagles a 31-30 lead late in the first half.

However, Millard North scored the last five points of the half — including a pair of buckets by reserve forward Nick Dolezal — to take a 35-31 lead into the locker room.

Hunter Sallis struggled and Jasen Green was quiet in the first half, but the duo took over in the third quarter as the Mustangs outscored the Eagles 20-12 and pulled ahead 65-43 heading into the fourth. Sallis had a couple of tough buckets plus a pair of free throws while Green had a dunk, a 3 and a couple of key offensive rebounds.

Sallis picked up his fourth foul on a charge 28 seconds into the fourth quarter and took a seat, but Dolezal checked in for him and scored the first two buckets of the period to give Millard North its largest lead at 59-43. Dolezal converted all four of his shot attempts for eight points, giving the Mustangs a big spark off the bench.

Central made a late push with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit in half, using full-court pressure to turn the Mustangs over and make life tough. Millard North settled in after that, however, and started making the Eagles pay for their aggressiveness to pull away.

Sallis scored 10 of his game-high 19 in the second half and grabbed nine rebounds including six on the offensive end. Tyler Sandoval, a 6-foot-9 senior, added 17 points on 7-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line with six boards including four on offense. Green finished with 11 points and eight rebounds (four offensive) while shooting 5-of-6 from the field.

The Mustangs corralled 18 offensive rebounds as a team while the smaller Eagles had just 11 defensive boards the whole game.

Johnson had a double-double for the Eagles with 18 points and 12 rebounds including eight on the offensive end. Juniors Jay Dawson and PJ Davis added 13 and 12 points, respectively, but the Eagles shot 5-of-17 from 3 as a team and matched Millard North’s 16 turnovers.

No. 2 Bellevue West 73, No. 3 Omaha Creighton Prep 64

After a sluggish first half, both teams caught fire in the third quarter and turned the game into a track meet. Bellevue West led 26-24 at halftime as the Thunderbirds went 1-for-14 from deep while the Junior Jays shot 9-of-22 overall.

Wisconsin commit Chucky Hepburn, who didn’t score until the final six seconds of the first half, controlled the action to start the third quarter, assisting on Bellevue West’s first four buckets before scoring himself to put the T-Birds up 37-32.

The Junior Jays didn’t go away, however, as their senior guards stepped up. Brendan Buckley went 3-for-3 from both the field and the line for 10 points while point guard Justin Sitti, a Morningside commit, chipped in six points. Hepburn continued to dish, though, and Omaha commit Frankie Fidler was the primary beneficiary as he scored 11 points in the quarter. Hepburn had six assists in the third while Bellevue West shot 10-of-15 from the field including 4-of-5 from 3.

Prep hit seven of its eight shots including a 3 but only converted seven of its 11 free-throw attempts as Bellevue West took a 50-46 lead into the fourth quarter.

Sitti opened the fourth quarter with a personal 7-2 run to give the Junior Jays the lead, then he fed Buckley for a 3 to make it 56-52 in Prep’s favor. However, the Thunderbirds answered with a pair of 3s — one by Evan Inselman and one by Josiah Dotzler — to take back the lead. AJ Rollins tied it up at 58-all at the free-throw line with 3:46 to go.

Fidler took over from there, scoring five straight then grabbing an offensive rebound that led to a corner 3 from Greg Brown for an 8-2 run and a 68-60 lead with 76 seconds to go. Fidler added another bucket to give him 30 and Hepburn closed the game at the free-throw line.

Fidler shot 13-of-20 from the field including 3-of-7 from deep and grabbed nine rebounds. Hepburn struggled form the field but still recorded a double-double with 12 points, 10 assists and five steals. Bellevue West shot 8-of-11 from deep and 17-of-25 overall in the second half.

Sitti led Prep with 21 points, knocking down all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Buckley added 17 points on 5-of-9 from the field, 2-of-3 from 3 and 5-of-7 from the foul line with seven rebounds. Th euro scored 31 of their combined 38 points in the second half. Rollins, the Nebraska football commit who had a 16-point, 15-rebound double-double in Prep’s quarterfinal win over Millard West, spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble and finished with just two points and two rebounds.

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