The top seeds advanced on both the girls and boys side of the Metro Holiday Tournament, setting up two incredible clashes on Saturday night.
The nightcap of holiday tournament championship Saturday was so good, 32 minutes wasn’t enough. No. 1 Millard North and No. 2 Bellevue West needed a full 40 minutes to determine a winner, but at the end of the night, the Mustangs managed to hold on for a 94-91 double-overtime victory.
In a game featuring a five-star recruit in Hunter Sallis and a Wisconsin signee in Chucky Hepburn, it was Millard North senior Saint Thomas who stole the show, exploding for a school-record 48 points.
Thomas scored from every spot on the floor, putting up 22 in the first half to lead the Mustangs to a 48-43 lead at the break. Sallis chipped in 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
Omaha signee Frankie Fidler paced the Thunderbirds with 15 points nicking three triples in the second quarter, and the Bellevue West provided a big boost with 10 points (eight by Evan Inselman, two by Preston Ames) in the second quarter. Hepburn set the table for all his teammates with nine assists and no turnovers in the first half.
Bellevue West opened the third quarter with an 11-2 run to pull ahead 54-50, but Millard North fired back with seven straight. The sides continued to trade blows the rest of the quarter. Hepburn knocked down a 3 to take a lead, but Thomas just beat the buzzer with a put-back in a crowd to put the Mustangs ahead 65-64 heading into the fourth.
Millard North pulled ahead by six early on, but Bellevue West rallied to tie it at 74-all with 2:10 to go on a steal by Josiah Dotzler that led to a dunk by Greg Brown. Millard North pulled ahead twice on layups by Old Dominion signee Jadin Johnson and Tyler Sandoval, but Bellevue West responded with two tough buckets by junior Williams Kyle III to tie it at 78-all with 48.6 to play. Millard North ran the clock down and had two chances to win it, but Bellevue West dug in and got the stops it needed to send it to overtime.
Hepburn opened the extra period with another 3 and the lead exchanged hands a couple of times before Brown put the Thunderbirds up 85-82 with a pair of free throws with 41.3 to play. Thomas came up big once again with his fifth triple of the night to tie it up with 12.1 to go. Bellevue West ran the clock down and Hepburn pulled up from deep at the buzzer, but he came up short.
Millard North scored the first six points of the second overtime including four by Thomas, but a couple of poor decisions by the Mustangs opened the door for the T-Birds to get back in it as a dunk by Hepburn made it a three-point game with just under a minute remaining.
The Thunderbirds forced a turnover but then gave it right back with one of their own with 11.2 to play. A trip to the foul line for the Mustangs yielded two misses, leaving the door wide open for Bellevue West. However, the Mustangs fouled Dotzler and sent the freshman to the line with 3.4 on the clock. He made the first then tried to miss the second intentionally, but he missed the rim. The Mustangs fouled Thomas with 2.5 to go and he made the first before missing the second, but the T-Birds had just 2 seconds to work with and weren’t able to get a good look.
Thomas shot 19-of-26 from the field, 5-of-9 from 3 and 5-of-7 from the free-throw line while grabbing 14 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. Sallis added 20 points, seven boards and four assists.
Fidler led the Thunderbirds with 22 points and six rebounds. Hepburn finished with 19 points, 13 assists and two turnovers, giving him 45 assists and just 11 turnovers in his last four games. Kyle played a huge role defensively, blocking four shots and switching out onto guards in ball screen situations, and he also scored 16 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 4-of-6 from the foul line. Brown and Inselman chipped in 13 and 11 points, respectively.
The second-seeded Omaha Central Eagles made a statement early on, doubling up the top-seeded Patriots of Millard South in the first quarter 26-13 before pulling ahead by as much as 18 in the second quarter.
However, sophomores Megan Belt and Khloe Lemon combined for 38 points in the second half to lead a Millard South comeback and power the Patriots to a 79-76 win.
Millard South cut its deficit all the way down to one heading into the fourth quarter at 53-52 before the Eagles responded with a 9-1 run early in the fourth to pull back in front 64-55. Millard South didn’t fold, however, chipping away at the lead until a 3-pointer from Belt tied the game up at 71-all around the two-minute mark.
Central went 3-for-4 from the foul line to pull ahead 74-71, then sophomore My Babbitt took over, scoring at the rim then stealing the ball and taking it all the way for a three-point play with 42.7 to play. An empty trip for Central led to a foul, and Belt split a pair to make it a three-point game. Central freshman point guard Inia Jones drove in for the quick 2 with 10.3 to go.
Central sent sophomore Babbitt to the line and she sank both, making it a three-point game, and Jones’ off-balance 3-point attempt at the buzzer didn’t fall. Millard South won its second straight Metro title and 10th in school history.
Belt scored 23 points, shooting 6-of-10 from 3 and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line, and eh grabbed five rebounds and three steals as well. Lemon matched her with 23 points, shooting 7-of-13 from the field and 8-of-11 from the foul line. Babbitt scored 14 points including seven of Millard South’s final eight while sophomore Core Olsen chipped in 10 points, eight of which came in the second quarter.
Junior Aaniya Webb scored 12 of her team-high 19 in the first quarter to lead the Eagles to their big lead. She shot 7-of-13 including 3-of-5 from deep. Jones, the spectacular freshman, scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting and picked apart Millard South’s pressure all game with nine assists. The Eagles had a serious size advantage and took advantage of it with 6-foot-3 senior Nyanuar Pal and 6-foot-5 junior Ital Lopuyo combining for 23 points on 9-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line with 13 rebounds.
Heartland Athletic Conference
For the second time in the span of two weeks, the top two teams in the state squared off, this time with a tournament tile on the line.
No. 2 Fremont gave No. 1 Lincoln Pius X all it could handle, shooting 13-of-25 from 3 including 10-of-17 in the first half, but a 14-0 fourth quarter run and a monster performance from Huskers signee Alexis Markowski proved to be too much to overcome as the Thunderbolts won 79-67.
Markowski scored a school-record 42 points and pulled down 22 rebounds to power Pius to its second straight HAC title. Miriam Miller added 22 points for the Bolts.
Macy Bryant, a 2022 UNK commit, led the Tigers with 20 points while shooting 6-of-7 from deep. Taylor McCabe, a 2022 Iowa commit, added 19 points and shot 4-of-5 from 3. Senior Charli Earth added 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
No. 1 Lincoln Pius X dominated the game defensively in the first half then took over offensively in the second to make it a Pius sweep with a 62-44 win over No. 3 Lincoln Southeast.
Pius held the Knights to 4-of-16 shooting in the first half and senior center Blake Daberkow banked in a 3 at the buzzer to give the Bolts a 29-16 lead at halftime. Pius scored on its first six possessions of the second half and continued to scorch the nets to take a 47-24 lead into the fourth quarter before cruising to the finish.
Pius shot 66.7% from the field in the second half. Charlie Hoiberg led all scorers with 18 points, shooting 7-of-10 from the field including 4-of-6 from deep. Daberkow added 13 points off the bench while Sam Hastreiter shipped in 12 points.
Jake Appleget, a potential 2022 football target for Nebraska, led the Knights with eight points McGinness Schneider, Barrett France and David Yagub chipped in seven apiece.
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.