COPPERAS COVE — Ojai Black made a statement, and his team extended a streak.
En route to a game-high 24 points, Ellison’s senior guard guided the Eagles back to the postseason once again with a 78-58 victory at Copperas Cove.
“I just put the mentality in my head that I was going to come out and be aggressive,” Black said. “This was a statement game.”
Black also recorded game-highs in rebounds (6), assists (4) and steals (2), while making 7 of 11 field goal attempts and 10 of 11 free throws as the Eagles clinched a playoff berth for the 19th consecutive season.
Sitting atop the District 8-5A standings entering the evening, it was most likely only a matter of time before Ellison secured a spot in the postseason, but Black did not want to wait any longer than necessary.
“We worked hard for this, getting up at 7 o’clock in the morning, every morning, five days a week. We worked hard for this. We’re not done yet, but it feels good to celebrate now.”
Black scored in every quarter and made big plays for the Eagles (28-4, 9-1) at critical moments of the game, but the poise and leadership displayed equally impressed his coach.
“It was the little things, he guarded the best player, got key rebounds and key assists and got the guys going,” Ellison head coach Alberto Jones said. “This is my third year with him, and I thought it was one of the best (games he’s ever played).
“He wanted it. He was focused before the game and knew what was at stake.”
Black scored seven points in the first quarter, including a buzzer-beating jumper to pull Ellison within a point, 20-19, after trailing 17-12.
The Eagles reclaimed the lead for the first time since holding an early 6-4 advantage in the second quarter and never trailed again. Ellison scored the first six points of the second quarter, taking a 25-20 lead on a pair of free throws by Black.
By halftime, the Eagles led 42-37 behind Black’s 15 first-half points, and put the game away in the third quarter, holding the Bulldawgs (16-11, 4-6) without a field goal for the final seven minutes of the period.
“We kind of played right into their hands by taking outside shots and not hitting them because then they get out in the open court,” Copperas Cove head coach Billy White Jr. said, “and they are pretty good in the open court.”
The Eagles outscored Copperas Cove 15-7 in the third quarter to take a 57-44 lead as the Bulldawgs missed 11 consecutive shots following Cory Scott’s basket moments into the second half. Copperas Cove’s leading scorer Scott finished with 10 points and Cedric Carlisle added 11 to lead the Bulldawgs, who did not have a player score more than four points in the second half.
Ellison, however, had no such scoring slumps.
James Jessie and Ronnie Edwards posted 14 points apiece to complement Black’s output, while Thomas Larry added 10 points for the Eagles, who made 29 of 57 shots from the floor.
But Black stole the show, and there was nothing the Bulldawgs could do about it.
“Ojai was being Ojai, and that is what he can do, and that is what we know he can do,” White said. “Unfortunately, tonight, we weren’t able to slow him down.”