Michael Aranda gets to the gym at 5:30 a.m. every day to work on his shot, and that diligence showed up Friday night at Shoemaker.
Aranda scored 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, hitting three 3-pointers and going 8 of 8 at the foul line to help Ellison defeat the No. 19-ranked Grey Wolves 59-55 in a seesaw battle to open District 8-6A play.
“In the first half, I was cold,” the senior guard said afterward. “I was missing shots I really thought I was going to make. But I put work in every morning, and I’m glad to see the results come in with me hitting big-time shots.”
Eagles senior point guard Dajuan Jones was a model of consistency and calmness throughout the ballgame, playing nearly the entire 32 minutes and registering 17 points, three rebounds and six assists.
Jones said it’s all about staying cool no matter what is happening in the game, which included him encouraging Aranda through his rough first half.
“If I stay poised, then everybody else will stay poised,” Jones said. “(Aranda) wasn’t doing so well in the first half, but I told him I needed him. He came out in the second half and showed up."
The two teams went back and forth throughout, as they answered one another with run after run until the final whistle blew.
Shoemaker (9-5, 0-1 8-6A) went on a 10-0 spurt for a 14-4 lead with two minutes, 18 seconds left in the first quarter after Ellison took an early 4-2 advantage.
Senior Javon Levi and junior Duwain Thomas hit consecutive 3s to begin the run, and Levi capped it off on a driving layup to put the Wolves up 10.
The Eagles (12-3, 1-0) answered with a jumper from the free-throw line by senior Travian Wright and a trey from the left wing by Jones to help them outscore Shoemaker 7-3 for the remainder of the first to pull within 15-11.
Ellison then opened the second period on a 10-2 run behind five points from Jones to snag a 20-18 lead. But a 3-pointer from the right wing by senior Devyn Brewton began an 11-0 surge for the Wolves to help push them to a 28-23 halftime advantage.
Not surprisingly, the second half saw much of the same.
After a driving layup to commence the third stanza by Levi, the Eagles scored 12 of the next 14 behind eight points from Aranda. But two 3s by Brewton ignited another 8-0 run by Shoemaker for a 40-35 lead to end the quarter.
The Wolves held the advantage for the majority of the fourth.
However, after a timeout with 3:29 left in the contest and Shoemaker leading 47-43, Jones splashed a trey from the left wing and Aranda sunk two shots from the charity stripe to kick off 9-0 spurt that helped lift Ellison to the four-point victory.
“I thought my two senior guards (Jones and Aranda) were huge late, knocking down free throws and making plays,” Eagles head coach Alberto Jones Jr. said. “That one-two punch did a great job for us.”
Ellison finished the game 14 of 16 in free-throw shooting, and its head coach said it was key to Friday’s victory.
“Of our three losses, a couple of them were because we didn’t do well from the line late in the game,” Jones said. “But we have all the confidence in the world in them to make them. They took their time and made some clutch ones tonight.”
Wolves head coach Emund Prichett said responsibility for the loss was squarely on his shoulders.
“I thought we weren’t prepared, which ultimately comes back to me,” Prichett said. “We didn’t play tough enough, and we didn’t get stops when we needed to get stops. They out-toughed us on all the loose balls, they got the rebounds when they needed them and they got the stops when they needed them.
“They were definitely the better team tonight.”
FRIDAY'S 8-6A BOYS
- Ellison 54, Shoemaker 50
- Killeen 58, Belton 56
- San Angelo Central 63, Copperas Cove 56
- Waco Midway 68, Harker Heights 62