WACO — Malik Malone was an unknown for much of the season.
But after Monday night, he won’t be for much longer.
Having spent much of the year on JV, the sophomore Ellison wing made his biggest mark yet when he injected life back into his Eagles with three clutch 3-pointers during a 55-second span between the third and fourth quarters and sparked Ellison to a 51-46 bi-district playoff win over Duncanville at McLennan Community College
“My number was called and I knew I had to respond, I had to put up or shut up,” Malone said.
And with his Eagles struggling to hit shots, going 0-for-8 during a nearly six-minute streak that saw the Panthers rally with a 12-1 run and take a 36-29 lead with 58.6 seconds left in the third quarter, it was the skinny sophomore who came to the rescue.
Receiving kick-out passes from senior guard Ojai Black, who was struggling through a personal 0-for-8 stretch, Malone knocked down his first 3 with 40 seconds left and then again with 1.6 seconds remaining in the third after a five-second violation on Duncanville to cut Ellison’s deficit to 36-35 entering the fourth.
“That was the ball game right there, that was the ball game, that gave us extra life,” Ellison head coach Alberto Jones said. “I told the guys, we took their best shot and we’re only down by one, so that was the ball game right there.”
Malone hit his third consecutive trey 15 seconds into the fourth quarter to put Ellison back on top 38-36 and then Black got back into the swing of things offensively, scoring with a baseline layup — his first bucket since making his first four in a row in the first quarter — and finished the game off by hitting 5-of-7 from the free throw line.
“Malone’s a big time player, you’re going to see him more in the future,” Black said. “He kind of won the game for us.”
The win kept Ellison’s 19th consecutive playoff trip alive for at least another game as the Eagles (28-6) await the winner of today’s game between Grapevine and Flower Mound, which is led by former Killeen head coach Jason Fossett.
“This is what you call a complete team effort, I think,” Jones said.
Black led the effort with 16 points, but it was his seven assists and ability to facilitate that made the biggest difference.
Whether it was a kick-out pass to Malone or a bounce pass inside to 6-foot-5 junior post Fred Jackson for an and-one with 2:04 left, Black found his man repeatedly.
“I saw it coming,” Black said of the second of back-to-back entry passes to Jackson that effectively clinched the win late in the fourth quarter. “It was just breaking the defense down. As soon as I saw the defense collapse, you just give a head-fake to the big man and Fred’s going to finish.”
Ellison jumped out hot as Black nailed his first four field goals and fellow senior Malik Hawkins (11 points) hit two of his three 3-pointers to go up 14-2 with 3:40 to play in the first quarter. Jackson added a post-up hook shot and James Jessie banked in a jumper as the Eagles closed out the opening frame leading 18-7.
The Panthers (24-11) weren’t going quietly, not with 6-foot-5 junior post Omar Sherman slamming home five one-handed dunks, as Duncanville opened the third quarter on a 17-4 run to take a 36-29 lead with 58.6 seconds remaining in the frame.
After Malone’s heroics, the Panthers pulled within 48-46 with 46 seconds remaining and got the ball back after Black was cited for an over-and-back violation for stepping across mid-court and jumping back across it to receive a pass.
But Ellison junior forward Ronnie Edwards, who often found himself on the other end of Sherman’s dunks, recovered a loose ball on the ensuing possession and quickly passed it to Black, who finished the game off at the free throw line, sinking 3 of 4 in the final 21 seconds.
“We knew we could beat these guys, all we had to do was come out, play hard and do what we do best, ... and we got the W,” Black said.