Brendan on Basketball: Districts Recap


Brendan Preisman, CP Sports Network

For the 7th straight year, the Junior Jays are going to play in the state basketball tournament.  The Jays are now winners of 7 in a row and sitting comfortably at #23 in the nation.  Next up is a short ride to Lincoln, where the team will try to win its 3rd state title during that streak.  

Prep opened their quest to take District A-3 by going up against 4-16 Omaha Bryan.  The Bears first ran into the Junior Jay buzz saw on January 23, and ended up losing 86-54 despite excellent shooting.  Luke Jungers put up 19 points on 7 for 8 shooting, and 8 other Junior Jays scored, all finishing with 6 or more points.  The breakout star of the game was junior Martel Evans, who scored a career high 13 points.  Lam Kuany and Darwin Lofton did well for Bryan (a combined 38 points), but they provided too little, too late.  Prep shot 67% from the field, and many (including myself) expected a similar result.  

However, there was clearly a different feel to the game where all the chips were on the table.  Jungers sustained a thumb injury in pregame warmups and didn’t look like his usual self.  At the end of the first quarter, it was 21-15 Prep despite Bryan having jumped out to a 4-0 lead.  Prep fans were able to take a breath, but the score was actually closer at halftime (29-24), and the atmosphere in the Heider Center had an undercurrent of nervousness.  

In the second half, Bryan senior Jai’lyn Spears went ballistic, scoring 20 of the team’s 26 points by himself.  Luckily for the Junior Jays, they were able to answer, mostly led by Mai’Jhe Wiley (a career-high 22) and Justin Sitti (15 pts, 5 reb).  AJ Rollins also woke up in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the final frames.  The Jays again shot very efficiently (52%), but where they made their mark was in the margins, out rebounding Bryan 30-15 and hitting 12 of their 16 free throws.  Despite the final margin of 63-50 giving Prep fans time to relax, it did lead to some worries about how the district final would go.  

The opponent in the district final would be Elkhorn South, who had just delivered a first class beat down, 69-31, to Kearney the same day Prep was struggling to put Bryan away.  It was clear that this game would be different for the Junior Jays from the jump.  AJ Rollins scored on a layup the first possession after the tip, and things only got better for the Junior Jays from there, opening up a 23-9 lead by the end of the first quarter.  When things seemed like they might get close, Prep went on a huge run and basically sealed the game, going up 52-31 at the end of the third quarter.  In the fourth quarter, the Jays backed off a little bit, and the final score was a not-that-close 62-50 win for Prep in 7 players’ final games in the Heider Center.  

Luke Jungers had recovered from his thumb injury, and he played like a man possessed, scoring 10 points in the opening frame en route to 19 in the game.  Mai’Jhe Wiley also had another scoring explosion, finishing with 18 points, and big AJ Rollins added 12 points and typically great defense.  Only two players for Elkhorn South scored in double figures, and Prep’s swarming perimeter defense calmed the Storm.  It was the 5 guys that Prep has run with all year (Sitti, Buckley, Wiley, Rollins, and Jungers) who helped hold things down and earned Prep yet another trip to state.  

The state bracket certainly looks a little different this year after a spate of upsets.  Omaha Central, Papillion La Vista, and Westside will not be competing at state, and Lincoln Pius is sneaking in as a wild card after they lost in their district final.  The only three #1 seeds to make it out were, of course, Bellevue West, Millard North, and Creighton Prep.  These 3 teams are almost certainly the only teams that realistically have a chance at hoisting the trophy this year, and all their games against each other have been close, dramatic, finishes (with the exception of  the second installment of Bellevue West-Millard North), and all 3 are in the national top 25 (see the link above).  It’s going to be an interesting state tournament, and nobody can wait to find out who comes out on top.