Alberto Jones said it wouldn’t happen again, and Ojai Black made his coach seem prophetic.
Following what was possibly his worst night ever from the free-throw line, the Eagles senior captain made a slight adjustment to his routine, finding a rhythm with three thunderous bounces of the ball.
Shooting 10-of-11 from the line, Black fueled an Eagles free-throw bonanza as Ellison made 34 of its 44 tries from the charity stripe — including 16 consecutive in the second half — to rock 4A No. 13 Waco University 75-60 on Friday.
“We took it seriously, like coach said, it could be the difference between winning and losing a game,” said Black, who drained his first nine straight free throw tries after shooting 100-150 each of the last two mornings.
Black led Ellison with 16 points, followed by 11 apiece for fellow guards Malik Hawkins and reserve Tyree King, playing his first game of the season after missing the opener, and 10 points from Knigel Key. Eagles posts Fred Jackson, also playing in his first game, and Ronnie Edwards added nine and eight points, respectively, while combining on for 11 rebounds.
“It’s mental toughness. It don’t make no sense to be the best free throw shooting team or the best offensive or defensive team if you don’t have mental toughness,” Black said.
But it was the Eagles’ free throw prowess and ability to draw contact — for 30 fouls — that helped them withstand several powerful body blows by the Trojans, including an 18-4 run over a span of 5 minutes in the third quarter.
“What I was proud of was we took their punches — a couple were hard punches — and I thought we didn’t just fall down, we took it and started throwing our own punches,” said Jones, the Eagles head coach.
With Ellison leading 40-27 early in the frame, 6-foot-7 University post Kenrich Williams (25 points) followed a miss from teammate Chris Harris with a two-handed dunk at the 6:29 mark and the rally was on. Williams added a 3-pointer nearly two minutes later that was quickly followed by a three-point play from Harris and then capped the run with back-to-back layups to give the Trojans their first lead since midway through the first quarter, 45-44, at the 1:30.
But there was Black to stop the bleeding, driving to his right on three consecutive possessions, drawing the foul each time.
“We know where we want to get, we know the spot we want to get to and we’re going to get to the spot,” said Black.
Rocking himself into a rhythm, Black bent his knees slightly and sunk six in a row over the final 1:13 of the third quarter to help Ellison retake the lead 50-45. King then followed with two of his 11 free throws after being fouled as time expired to give the Eagles a 52-45 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“To me, this should be every day for (Black),” Jones said. “I thought the whole team kind of buckled down and played, but I thought Ojai played like a leader those (final 1:13) to get us back in front.”