BELTON — With a No. 12 ranking and only two losses on the season, there was some pre-game chatter among the Ellison Eagles that their 8-6A contest against the Belton Tigers, who entered the contest tied for sixth in the eight-team District 8-6A, would be over by halftime.
And it almost was. But it was the Tigers ready to put the game out of reach. They just couldn’t quite close the door, though, as the Eagles surged back from an 11-point halftime deficit and held off the pesky Tigers 37-35 at Tiger Gym on Friday.
“The biggest thing I tell them is we don’t believe in moral victories,” Belton coach Trovocie Jackson said of his postgame talk to his team. “We are not those kind of men and we never will be. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We had every opportunity to win that basketball game outright and we just have to make sure we get better.”
The Tigers (12-12, 1-4) led 21-10 at the half thanks to freshman guard Kayden Downs hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to highlight a second quarter in which the Tigers outscored the Eagles 14-4.
But they then found themselves trailing 24-23 just four minutes into the second half and down 34-25 with 4 minutes to play in the game before fighting back.
Two 3-pointers by Jordan Ellis highlighted an 8-2 run for Belton to cut the deficit to 36-33 with less than two minutes to go.
With 27.8 seconds to go, Jarian Kerley cut the lead to 36-35 driving the lane. He then fouled Ellison’’s Amir Davis with 14 seconds to play. Davis missed the front end of one-and-one and Belton’s Kiron Griffin came down with the rebound to give the Tigers a chance for the upset.
But Dontori Lott had his shot rejected by Davis. And after Ellison added a free throw, Griffin’s final 3-point heave hit the backboard but missed the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity,” Jackson said of Lott’s drive. “We had it in a kid’s hand who had opportunity to score late with the game on the line.
“There’s is a little extra contact, but you know what, he’s a a good enough basketball player and a good enough athlete to be able to finish through that anyway. That is a message I stressed to him.”
The Eagles (23-2, 5-0), though, felt they should have never been in the situation.
“In the locker room (at half) coach (Alberto Jones Jr.) just came in there and said he has no speech for us,” Ellison’s Kadarius Green said. “He said ‘This is unacceptable. They are playing harder than us. We are ranked No. 12 in the state but we aren’t playing like it and, if anything, they are ranked No. 12.’ That’s what fueled us.”
And Green and the Eagles turned up the tempo in the third quarter, as Green hit back-to-back 3s.
“I knew I was going to be shooting them,” Green said. “Coming out of the half, coach got onto me especially, saying I’m a shooter, that’s what I need to do. so I was getting ready and I was feeling it.”
Green took care of the long game, and Davis dominated on the inside as the Eagles outscored the Tigers 18-4 in the quarter, winning the rebound battle 12-4 in the quarter and also forcing eight turnovers.
“That was one of the things we talked about and we worked out butts off in practice,” Jackson said. “I told them we can’t be bullied, we have to bully, And in the third quarter we were bullied. And my guys are (angry) about it. And we look forward to seeing them again.”