BY CHAD DARE
Seniors are expected to make plays when the game’s on the line.
So, when the Westville Tigers found themselves trailing the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils by 10 points (31-21) with 5 minutes left in the Thursday’s Vermilion County Tournament, it was time for Robert Elliott to step up.
The 6-foot-4 senior forward scored six points and pulled down five rebounds in the final minutes, but it was his offensive rebound and putback with just two seconds left that tied the game at 34-34, sending it into overtime.
“Robert is a senior,’’ Westville coach Jeff Millis said. “He played a lot for us as a sophomore. He started for us last year and he’s been our inspirational leader for the past two seasons.
“He did what seniors do in the fourth quarter. He stepped up, took it upon himself to rebound the ball and get the ball in the basket.’’
In the extra session, Jeffery Thompson scored eight of his 14 points to lead Westville to a 43-39 win over Bismarck-Henning at the David S. Palmer Arena.
With the victory, the Tigers captured the Pool B championship and they will advance to Saturday’s title game where Westville will play the Salt Fork Storm.
“It’s exciting to be in the championship game,’’ said Elliott, who shared game-high scoring honors with Thompson, as they both finished with 14 points. “It wasn’t easy coming back like we did, but being a senior, I knew I had to put my team on my back and do whatever it took for us to win.’’
All three of his offensive rebounds in the final four minutes led to six points for Westville (15-4), but it was the final one that sent the game into overtime.
Millis pointed out that Elliott did everything right on that play as Jordan Romo missed the initial shot, “he took his time and got the ball in the basket.’’
And how did Elliott see the play?
“It was a nice shot by Jordan Romo, but it went over the basket and I put myself in a position to get the rebound,’’ he said. “Once I did, I had to stay calm, get my feet underneath me and put it up.’’
In addition to allowing six second-chance points in the final minutes, Bismarck-Henning (16-4) had four turnovers and the Blue Devils were just 3-of-6 at the free-throw line.
“Too many mental errors in the final few minutes of the game,’’ Bismarck-Henning coach Jon Clapp said. “Several of those turnovers happen when we really weren’t under that much pressure. That hurt us.
“We also missed some key free throws to seal the game.’’
Bismarck-Henning’s Austin Toler and Andy Bott missed free throws in the fourth quarter and Toler made just 1-of-2 with 14 seconds left, giving the Blue Devils a 34-32 lead.
“We had one of the better guards in the area at the line,’’ Clapp said. “He’s a 70-some percent free-throw shooter. You don’t imagine him missing.’’
But, Clapp also second-guessed himself about Westville’s offensive rebounds as Bismarck-Henning’s starting front court of Austin Reinken and Wilde Garowski were on the bench for most of the fourth quarter.
“I was trying to go with more quickness in the zone to cover things,’’ he said. “Brad Walsh was hot tonight, and in hindsight, maybe things could have been done differently.
“But, in the flow of the game, you go with the feel you’ve got.’’
Walsh did lead the Blue Devils with seven rebounds and his five second-half points along with Chase Connelly scoring 10 of his team-high 12 in the second half helped Bismarck-Henning build its 10-point lead.
“(Walsh) came in off the bench, did a nice job,’’ Clapp said. “He was aggressive. He hit the boards hard, and he got loose balls. It was a good effort game from him tonight.’’
Not only did turnovers hurt Bismarck-Henning in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but two offensive miscues to start the overtime allowed Westville to take a 39-34 lead.
“We had been playing with the lead,’’ Clapp said. “We got behind and we started to force things. We wound up throwing the ball away a few times.’’
In the first 28 minutes of Thursday’s game, Westville had committed 20 turnovers against Bismarck-Henning’s zone defense.
“We didn’t play nearly clean enough,’’ Millis said. “Their zone isn’t a typical zone. They are very long in it and they do some nice things in it.
“But that’s 11 to 12 too many turnovers. That is 11-12 times we didn’t get a shot. We are averaging about 10 turnovers a game.’’
Millis knows his team will need to play better on Saturday night in the Vermilion County Tournament championship game against Salt Fork.
“Salt Fork is an exceptional basketball team,’’ he said. “They are rated No. 5 in the Class 1A state, and you don’t get rated No. 5 if you’re not pretty doggone good.
“We know how good they are, it’s a heck of a challenge. We will do the best that we can.’’
The Tigers defeated the Storm 41-38 on Jan. 4, and Saturday’s game is set for 8 p.m. tipoff at the David S. Palmer Arena.
Bismarck-Henning will play Oakwood in the third-place game at 6:30 on Saturday.