This one was personal for Ojai Black.
After feeling the burn of being swept by Shoemaker last season, Ellison withstood several late flurries by the relentless Grey Wolves and responded each time as Black nailed eight consecutive free-throw attempts over the final 30.7 seconds to send district-leading Eagles to a 58-49 win and solidify their stranglehold atop the 8-5A standings.
“I know some of these guys and I take it personal, so I came out here and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to let these guys beat us,’” said Black, who led all scorers with 26 points.
Watching as the Grey Wolves battled back from a 15-point deficit at halftime to pull within 50-45 on the heels of an 8-0 run in the span of a minute late in the fourth quarter, Black refused to let another one slip away.
Having struggled from the free throw line earlier in the season, Black stared down that rim with manic focus, dribbling once, rocking back and sinking free throw after free throw with machine-like precision as the Ellison senior captain went 8-for-8 from the charity stripe and finished a near-perfect 12 of 13 in the game.
“We knew we were going to face a little adversity, they’re a good team, but you do two things — you either give in, or you step up and fight back,” Black said. “And we stepped up and fought back, took a couple of their punches and we punched back and got the win.”
Ellison (20-4, 5-0 8-5A), which asserted itself as the top dog in District 8-5A with the win, is now one game up on second-place Harker Heights following their 64-59 win over Copperas Cove.
“The kids want it, the kids are hungry,” Ellison coach Alberto Jones said. “These guys have the common goal (to be No. 1) and they’re hungry right now. I’m just kind of along for the ride because they’re doing all the work.”
A defensive stalemate early, Shoemaker missed its first eight scoring opportunities and Ellison nursed a 6-0 lead with 3 minutes left in the first quarter. But both teams picked up the pace with each scoring twice in the next minute before Eagles guard Thomas Larry putback a Black miss inside of a minute and Tyree King nailed a pair of free throws with 5 seconds left for a 14-4 lead after the first quarter.
Ellison continued to take advantage of the Grey Wolves’ poor shooting early and stretched their lead to 29-14 by half with Shoemaker making just 5 of 22 shots in the first half.
“At first everybody was ready to play, but then (the officials) came in and started calling them bad fouls — we can’t blame the refs, but it started with the refs,” said Grey Wolves point guard Renard Thomas, who led with 12 points.
The foul issue was only exacerbated in the second half as senior Paris Yerry, who scored eight of Shoemaker’s first 10 points of the third quarter to pull within 38-24, was hit with his fifth foul with 2:41 left in the frame.
“You just have to play through it, it’s basketball and you’re not always going to get everything you want, so you’ve got to keep playing,” said Thomas, who nailed a 25-foot 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the third to pull within 40-31 before King hit a jumper with 0:05 on the clock to give Ellison a double-digit lead again.
In the fourth, though, with the Eagles playing keepaway, Shoemaker made its final push, beginning with a deep 3 from Patrick Mark that started a 6-0 run to make it 44-37. But Ellison responded with its own 6-0 run with dribble-and-drive layups from Malik Hawkins, Black and Jessie pulled it back to 50-37 with 1:55 left.
Three consecutive Eagles turnovers led to an 8-0 Shoemaker spurt to pull within five, but Black iced the game from the line to secure the victory.
“Last year we were young and we took our bumps and bruises, but those guys learned from it,” Jones said. “We went 0-5 against the Killeen teams last year, and that’s all the guys have been talking about for awhile and they wanted a little redemption.”