For sophomore guard Isaiah Stevenson, the feeling of getting into the win column and grabbing the first win of the early basketball season is a fulfilling one.
Despite a slow start and a rough finish, the Ellison Eagles soared past the Bryan Rudder Rangers 64-53 for their first win of the season and first in front of their home crowd.
“It feels great,” Stevenson said. “We’ve been working really hard for this and the coaches told us to go out and execute and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Seniors Ronnie Edwards and Knigel Key led the Eagles (1-1) with 14 points apiece while junior Malik Malone scored four of his six points in the fourth quarter to help Ellison hold off a late Bryan Rudder comeback attempt.
Shakur Martin got his only basket of the game early in the fourth quarter, but it was a big one. With 6:45 remaining, the junior post hit a 3-pointer that put Ellison ahead 56-38.
But the Rangers (0-1) used a 9-0 run to cut the Ellison lead to 56-47 with 3:26 remaining.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Ellison coach Alberto Jones Jr. said. “That was the message; we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Eagles needed only one field goal down the stretch as Malone’s steal and two-handed dunk put the Eagles back on top by 13. Despite the Rangers cutting the lead to 60-53 with 2:23 remaining, the Eagles clinched the game with four straight free throws from Key.
“He’s great,” Stevenson said about Malone. “He’s got major bounce and could do that all of the time.”
Key scored all 14 of his points from the charity stripe.
Ellison was playing its first game in a week since opening the season with a 65-61 road loss to Pflugerville Connally and the Eagles were late out of the gate.
The Eagles shot only 34 percent in the first half (8 of 23) and missed 10 of their first 13 free throws.
“I think it took a while to get everything picked up, but eventually we ran our sets right and everything,” Edwards said.
Defense and rebounding kept the Eagles in the game during the first half. The Eagles held the Rangers to 47 percent from the field, forced eight turnovers and outrebounded Rudder 35-16 through the first 16 minutes.
Ellison finished the game with a 35-16 edge on the boards and forced a total of 21 turnovers.
“That’s something we’ve been working on this week in practice is defense, working hard and pressuring the ball,” Edwards said. “I think that was a big reason why we got that win.”
The Rangers led by as many as nine points late in the first quarter, but the tide started changing late in the first half.
Stevenson hit a jump shot with 3:07 left in the second quarter that sparked a 13-2 Ellison run that gave the Eagles a 32-29 lead 52 seconds before halftime.
The Eagles did not relinquish that lead as Stevenson finished with 10 points, including six in the first half.