Harker Heights coach Celneque Bobbitt warned that none of it was going to matter once district play began.
The lofty No. 6 ranking, the shiny one-loss record, the four straight wins — none of it was going to matter to defending 8-5A champion Ellison.
And Bobbitt was proven correct Tuesday when Ellison blitzed Heights early, going up 15 at one point before surviving a Knight comeback bid for a 58-54 win in both teams’ district opener.
With Shoemaker on tap for today, a team the Knights split two meetings with last year, Bobbitt was hopeful his team learned a valuable lesson Tuesday.
“Hats go off to Ellison, they did what they needed to do to win a ball game, we didn’t,” he said. “We just lost focus for a long time and then we decided to play ball, but you can’t play a good ball club from behind.”
Heights trailed almost immediately against Ellison, falling behind 8-0 to start the game.
Ellison junior Malik Malone started the run with a 3-pointer and ended it 44 seconds later with his second trey of the game, part of 15 first-half points.
While Malone got the Eagles started, Ellison senior Fred Jackson finished it, scoring all 12 of his points in the second half.
Fellow senior Knigel Key iced the game for Ellison with a pair of free throws to put the Eagles up four with 10 seconds to play.
For Bobbitt, the rally was one positive to take away, but the negatives were impossible to ignore.
“I think we did a horrible job of team rebounding, which was a focus, 50-50 balls, which was a focus, and we didn’t get either one of those taken care of today,” he said after the game.
Heights went scoreless the first 5:22 of the game and had just two field goals in the first half that came from someone not named Cameron DeLaney, who had 10 in the first two quarters.
It only got worse for the Knights in the third, as Ellison, riding a wave of momentum, went up 15 twice in the period. Once on a putback by Jackson at the 3:45 mark and again on a jam by Jackson in traffic at the 2:27 mark.
But Heights wasn’t done for the night, far from it, and the Eagles expected nothing less.
“In a district game, they’ve got nothing to lose, and they’re ranked No. 6 — that’s a comeback we expect,” Jackson said.
Right on cue, Heights — which began the fourth down 42-28 — began chipping away at the lead, getting it down to 45-35 on a C.J. Bobbitt layup with 4:35 to play.
The Knights pulled within 53-49 on a long 3-pointer by Josh DeLaney and nearly pulled within two just seconds later when DeLaney stole the ball and laid it in all in one motion.
But the senior point guard, who led Heights with 19 points, was whistled for an offensive foul to erase the spectacular play.
Heights threatened again when Cameron DeLaney, who had 14 points, got a steal after a Josh DeLaney layup and dished to D’Angelo Streeter who was fouled with 15.2 seconds to play.
Streeter split the free throws to pull Heights within two, but Key put the game away on the next possession with his two clutch free throws.
And while it was just the Knights’ second loss of the season, and one they nearly stole on the road, coach Bobbitt said the only record that matters now is 0-1, the Knights’ district record.
The Knights will look to put one in the win column against Shoemaker today, which for Bobbitt, was the second positive to take away from Tuesday.
“We’ve got a lot to regroup about,” he said. “But one thing that’s good about basketball is you don’t have a lot of time to regroup. It ain’t a week — we’ve got two days.”
Contact Jordan Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7562