For Ellison, the emotion never disappeared Tuesday.
It showed early in the second half, when the Ellison starters, up 12, slapped the floor to start the next defensive possession.
It showed with 1:12 to play when Fred Jackson stole a pass then finished with a two-handed slam before turning to a delirious student section to yell, “This is my house.”
And it showed when the clock hit 0:00 and the Ellison players spilled onto the floor after holding off No. 6 Harker Heights 58-54, giving the Eagles a district-opening win and Heights just its second loss of the season.
Afterward, Eagle coach Alberto Jones said his team simply defended its home court.
But the players later acknowledged that Tuesday meant a bit more.
“We had a lot of preparation and we needed this — we really needed this one,” Ellison junior Malik Malone said. “We had a lot of ambition to come back from losing the (Panther Holiday Classic championship) in Pflugerville (on Saturday) and losing to (Heights last year) — we just needed this one.”
Malone got the Eagles started, scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, and senior Fred Jackson finished it, scoring all 12 of his points in the second half.
Yet the game wasn’t truly decided until Eagle point guard Knigel Key hit a pair of free throws to put Ellison up 58-54 with 10 seconds to play, putting away Heights for good.
“(We) just didn’t start,” Heights coach Celneque Bobbitt said. “We finished, but we just didn’t start.”
Ellison began the game with an 8-0 run that started and ended with a 3-pointer by Malone.
Malone didn’t slow down in the second quarter either, scoring seven points on a series of contested pull-ups as he began the game 6 for 9 from the field to help Ellison take a 25-17 lead into the half.
Heights, meanwhile, 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, 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 potentially spectacular play.
Heights threatened again when Cameron DeLaney followed a Josh DeLaney layup with a steal 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 iced the game on the next possession with his two clutch free throws.
Coach Bobbitt said the hot finish was a positive for his team to build on, but that there wasn’t a lot else to take away from the game for Heights.
“It just wasn’t the Knights that I know us to be,” he said.
“We’ve got two days to get ready for Shoemaker or it’s going to really be a blue Christmas for the Knights.”
And Jones was happy to see his team pick up an emotional win to open district play Tuesday, even if it got a bit close for comfort in the end.
“I thought we fought,” Jones said.
“I thought we started off with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. Then I thought we fought to the end, and, whew, it got close late.”