By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Ellison's dynamic duo was missing its Robin.
But much like their comic book counterparts, this Robin wasn't hard to replace.
With leading scorer Malik Hawkins missing in action with the flu, his stand-in - junior James Jessie - scored a game-high 21 points in the Eagles' 69-33 home rout of Belton on Friday.
"I had to bounce back. I hadn't done all that good this year, and when I saw (Hawkins) was out and somebody had to step up, I decided to take that role and just play hard to help us win," Jessie said.
Usually the team's sixth man, Jessie started for Hawkins and nailed the first of his three 3-pointers 54 seconds into the game and then hooked up with Batman himself - Ojai Black - on a fastbreak bucket a minute later after a Black steal for a 9-0 lead.
"The thing is, he can do that every night. That's his game - he attacks, he can hit the 3-ball and he guards well - if he can do that coming off the bench in district, we should be alright," said Black, who added 14 points - 10 in the second half.
Ellison (13-9, 2-1 12-5A), taking advantage of seven Tigers turnovers in the first quarter, scored the game's first 15 points before Belton (5-15, 1-2) even got on the board with a pair of free throws by post Daniel Mills with 2:16 left in the frame.
"That was big for the kids, huge for them because it built their confidence," Eagles coach Alberto Jones said. "A lot of these guys are confidence guys, (and) when their confidence is up they play real well."
After allowing rival Harker Heights to rally from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to win 54-49 on Tuesday, the Eagles needed all the confidence they could muster.
"We came out like Coach (Jones) wanted us to, we played hard and with intensity, and made sure this was a statement win to bounce back from what happened against Heights," Black said.
In control from the tip, Ellison led 18-4 after the first and 33-19 at halftime thanks in large part to taking advantage of second-chance opportunities, outrebounding Belton 20-9 in the first half. For the game, the Eagles owned the boards, outrebounding the Tigers 43-20 with 26 coming on the offensive end.
"It all came down to they rebounded the ball a whole lot better than we did and gave themselves multiple opportunities where we had very few," Belton coach John Osborne said. "That's the tale of the game right there. If you give up 26 offensive rebounds, ... you're not going to win many basketball games."
That discrepancy on the boards was only made more evident in the first possession of the second half when Black had three opportunities under the basket, rebounding his first two missed layups before finally putting it in to spark Ellison with six points in an 11-2 run over the first three minutes of the third quarter for a 44-21 lead.
Known for allowing teams to get back into games, the Eagles made it a point of emphasis to play all 32 minutes, outscoring Belton 36-14 in the second half and 14-4 in the fourth quarter.
Although Hawkins is expected back next week, the emergence of Jessie could be just what the Eagles need to make a 18th consecutive playoff appearance this season.
"I was just trying to make up (for Hawkins' absence) and help us win," Jessie said. "We can make it a (dynamic) trio with the three of us. We have to do something to win and make the playoffs."
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566.