Brendan on Basketball: Week of 2/1/21


To start off the second month of the year, the #3 Creighton Prep Junior Jays were given a nice gift: a second straight overtime game against a Top-10 opponent.   They were able to split those games to move to 15-2, and appear to have a death grip on the #3 spot unless something drastic happens.  Their opponents this week were the perfect storm for a team that might already be looking towards districts: first, on Saturday, the undisputed best team in Class A in #1 Bell West, which was able to squeak out a 79-77 win after coming back from down 11 twice, and a team that could spoil many others’ title hopes in #7 Papillion La Vista, who pushed Prep to the brink in a 51-50 victory for the Junior Jays.  

Against the #1 Thunderbirds of Bellevue West, Prep opened the game like a team on a mission, taking a 7 point lead into the second quarter and extending it to 11 at one point.  However, thanks to some key free throws and nice Chucky Hepburn passes, the game was tied at half. 

The second half unfolded in a similar manner, with Prep again building an 11 point lead…and then Chucky Hepburn turned into a supernova.  He scored 21 straight for the Thunderbirds and 17 in the fourth quarter alone, sending the game to an extra period.  Hepburn also had all 6 Bell West points in the third quarter and aside from a William Kyle layup, all Thunderbird points in the second half came from Hepburn or the charity stripe.  In overtime, Hepburn scored 5 more points to put himself at 32 for the game, and Josiah Dotzler added 4 in the extra period, including 2 free throws that helped seal the 79-77 victory.  

Chucky Hepburn played one of the best games of his career on Saturday (32, 8, 7, 2 steals on 50-40 shooting) and there is no shame in the loss.  Prep’s offensive players played quite well themselves, as Justin Sitti tied his career high with 21 points (with 8 rebounds and 3 assists), and Brendan Buckley and Luke Jungers both added 16.  

The game wasn’t lost on offense, or even really on defense, but rather in the margins of the game.  Prep was badly outrebounded for the first time all year, 37-25, and also committed 16 turnovers.  The Junior Jays were shooting incredibly well, at 53% FG and 50% 3PT, but were still unable to get the win.  However, even in defeat, Creighton Prep has proved something: they can play on the same level as the best team in the state for an entire game and then some.  

The game against the #7 Papillion La Vista Monarchs had the feel of a trap game, with factors like the tough loss and an overlooked opponent all making this a potentially dangerous game for the team.  Despite 6 first quarter points from Luke Jungers, Prep was only leading 14-11 at the end of one, and it got worse for the offense from there.  The Monarch defense absolutely shut down the Junior Jays, who scored 7 points in the second quarter, their lowest non-garbage time total of the year (they did score 5 in the 4th quarter against Omaha Northwest, but they were up 68-20 entering that quarter).  The game was 22-21 at halftime, and both offenses continued to struggle in the second half.  Jungers scored 9 points by himself in the third quarter, but Prep was actually down 2 entering the final frame thanks to Aidan Graham and his teammates knocking down three pointers.  In the fourth quarter, Prep was down 45-41, but successfully forced 2 straight turnovers (and almost a third) to tie the game and send it to overtime.  In overtime, the Monarchs were unable to make a 3, and after Justin Sitti drove in for a tough layup with 4 seconds to go, Prep led 51-50.  The Monarchs had two chances, but the first was tipped out of bounds by Brendan Buckley and the second was a half court heave that fell well short, and Prep survived.  

Compared to the offensive explosion on Saturday, the Junior Jays were tame in the scoring department against the Monarchs.  Jungers had another incredible game at 18 points, but most of his other teammates couldn’t pick up the scoring slack.  Mai’Jhe Wiley scored 11, but after him no other player scored more than 5 points.  However, in this game Prep definitively won the margins, holding the Monarchs to 20 rebounds and forcing 14 turnovers.  

There are only two weeks left in the season, and Prep gets a bit of a respite from top 10 opponents, going up against Lincoln Northeast and Burke, who have a combined record of 13-16.  These will be the first games for Prep where the opponent is not in the top 10 since January 16.  After the Bellevue West loss, it’s nearly impossible for Prep to get to 20 wins on the season, but a 19-3 record is still well within the realm of possibility.  Pierce Bazil for Lincoln Northeast could pose a threat at 22 points per game, but no other player for them is averaging over 13 points per game.  As for Burke, they only have 2 players in double figures, both of whom only average 10 points per game.  This should be two wins for Prep, because they’ll finish off the season in a battle for the #2 spot, playing both Omaha Central and Millard North in 2 weeks.

Upcoming Schedule: Prep plays against Lincoln Northeast on Saturday, February 6 and against Omaha Burke on Tuesday, February 9.