One was textbook, the other not so much, but both were exactly what Aberdeen Christian needed Thursday night.
The Knights took advantage of a few lucky bounces, before running a transition break to perfection on the way to a 55-49 win over second-seeded Canistota in the first round of the Class B State Boys’ Basketball Tournament at Wachs Arena.
Christian had watched its five-point lead evaporate and trailed by one before Ethan Russell hit a three-pointer with just over a minute remaining. The shot bounced off the rim about a half dozen times before falling through the hoop.
“It hit everything. What a huge shot. That’s just a massive, massive shot,” said Christian Coach David Rohrbach. “To be able to step up in that moment when we need a bucket was huge. It definitely hit about every part of the rim.”
Russell had a hard time explaining how that shot eventually found the bottom of the basket.
“I don’t know honestly. It hit every single part of the rim and the backboard,” Russell said. “It’s a lot of reps and you just get those lucky bounces in games like this. It helps a lot.”
From there, Canistota missed two free throws and when the Knights got the rebound, Canistota applied immediate pressure. Christian executed a flawless transition break that ended in a Jett Becker layup with 30 seconds remaining. All five players touched the ball during the sequence.
“That was awesome. It ran through my head to call a time out as it’s happening, because you’re wondering, please don’t turn it over, this is a huge possession,” Rohrbach said. “Our guys excuted that just perfectly. Credit to them. Just very maturely run by our guys. They did a great job.”
Canistota Coach Pat Jolley did not want to foul, noting there was a 10-second difference between the shot clock and the game clock.
“I don’t know how somebody got that open. We were just trying to pressure them. I didn’t want to foul. I wanted to see if we could get a stop. That was my intention,” Jolley said. “But then somehow we lost track of our people. I didn’t want to trap, but somehow they got open and scored, and that was the end of it.”
While the game was tight the whole way, Jolley felt the third quarter was a pivotal one as the Knights scored 22 points, to turn a three-point deficit into a five point-lead.
“Those three-point shots in the second half, not only do they give you three points, but I thought it gave them a lot of momentum, too,” Jolley said. “They scored as many in the third quarter as they did the whole first half. They did a nice job executing their offense against our zone and we just didn’t contest.”
Russell led a balanced attack for the Knights with 14 points, including a shot he will remember for a long, long time.
“Especially in your home town, it’s what you work for all off season,” Russell said. “It’s been a big a peak of our season that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time, so it’s great to get a win first game.”
Brent Ekanger added 12 points, Jackson Isakson 11, and Becker and Malek Wieker nine apiece.
Tyce Ortman and Chase Merrill each had 15 points and Isiah Robertson nine for the Hawks.
Cansitota, 21-3, faces White River in consolation action at 2:15 this afternoon.
“You can’t be hanging your head,” Jolley said, “because this side of the tournament is really tough.”
Christian, 19-4, meets Dell Rapids St. Mary in the semifinals at 7:45 tonight.
“I think it will sink in later. It’s almost hard to believe,” Rohrbach said of playing in the semis. “You always dream of playing at state, especially the Friday night and Saturday night rounds. To be there is pretty cool.”
ABERDEEN CHRISTIAN (19-4): Ethan Russell 5 0-0 14, Brent Ekanger 6 0-0 12, Jett Becker 3 2-2 9, Jackson Isakson 4 2-2 11, Malek Wieker 4 0-0 9.
CANISTOTA (21-3): Logan Katzer 1 0-0 3, Cole Papendick 1 2-2 4, Isiah Robertson 4 0-0 9, Tyce Ortman 6 3-8 15, Tye Merrill 1 0-0 3, Chase Merrill 4 6-8 15. Totals 17-42 11-18 49.
Aberdeen Christian 10 22 44 55
Canistota 10 25 39 49
3-point field goals – Russell 4, Becker, Isakson, Wieker; Katzer, Robertson, C. Merrill. Total fouls – Aberdeen Christian 15; Canistota 11. Rebounds – Aberdeen Christian 26 (Russell 8); Canistota 22 (Papendick 7, C. Merrill 7). Turnovers – Aberdeen Christian 8; Canistota 5. Assists – Aberdeen Christian 10 (Ekanger 3); Canistota 4. Steals – Aberdeen Christian 2; Canistota 5.
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