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December 26, 2013

Ellis converts at buzzer to lift Northview over Linton in first-round Classic game

TERRE HAUTE — When Northview’s Ethan Whitson missed a driving shot in the chaotic final seconds against Linton in Thursday’s second game of the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic, fans of both boys high school basketball teams probably thought overtime was inevitable.

But Whitson’s frontline teammate, 6-foot-5 senior Christian Ellis, had positioned himself on the right (opposite) side of the basket “just in case…,” he said later.

So when Whitson’s misfire caromed down to the alert Ellis, he grabbed the uncontested rebound and banked in a close-range basket split seconds before the final buzzer to give the Knights a 52-50 victory inside Terre Haute North’s gym.

“We did just enough to sneak by today,” Northview coach Clint Weddle told the Tribune-Star afterward.

Linton had tied the score at 50-50 with 6.8 seconds remaining on a pair of Bryant Jackson free throws, setting up Northview for the decisive inbound play and length-of-the-court drive.

“They got the ball to me,” Ellis said. “I looked up the court and saw Ethan. He had a good look and he drove to the rim. It just didn’t fall in for him and I was there for the putback. … When he had it, I was just running up the court, running up the court just in case the ball didn’t go in. I was just being prepared, being ready to put it right back in.”

“[Ellis] was supposed to follow out of our press break,” Weddle explained. “I’m glad he followed that far and didn’t count the bucket good [prematurely]. What an exciting finish to a pretty sloppy game across the board. … I guess that’s what this tournament is all about.”

Weddle used the word “sloppy” partly because his team committed 23 turnovers, including nine in a third quarter that saw the Knights’ lead dwindle from 33-21 to 33-31 in less than two minutes. Highlighting that 10-0 run for the Miners were back-to-back three-point plays — 11 seconds apart — by reserve Josh Dieball.

“We turned it over seven straight times,” Weddle pointed out. “We’ve got to overcome that. We’ll keep searching for any way to do so.”

Linton actually jumped ahead early — 9-4 — after treys by Jackson, Jackson again and Ryan Woodward. Early in the second period, the Miners padded their cushion to 15-7 on a layup by Beau Eaton, two free throws by Jackson and a short turnaround jumper by Joe Dieball.

But Weddle’s squad battled back, eventually catapulting on top at 18-17 on a Joe Ball 3-pointer with 2:37 left in the first half. The Knights closed the half with a 3 by Quinton Hayes and a three-point play by Drew Lumsdon to seize a 24-18 advantage.

In the third frame, Northview built that previously mentioned 33-21 lead with consecutive fielders by Whitson (inside), Jim Mace (inside) and Hayes (12-foot jumper).

After the Miners’ furious third-quarter rally, they moved ahead 35-34 early in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer from the left corner by Jackson. Later in the period, Hayes converted five consecutive points on a 3 and two free throws to put Northview back ahead at 46-42 with 1:27 showing on the scoreboard.

But Linton stormed back on the strength of Bryant Jackson’s driving-through-traffic bucket and Joe Dieball’s layup — made possible by Pierce Jackson’s steal near midcourt — to knot the score at 46-46. A Mace inside fielder and a Ball charity toss boosted the Knights’ lead to three, then Bryant Jackson cut Linton’s deficit to 49-48 with another driving basket. Ellis answered that with a free throw with 13.9 seconds remaining, which set the stage for Jackson’s tying free throws.

“We were down 12 [points] and got up three,” Linton coach Joey Hart assessed. “We competed. We just made one less play than them.”

“Coach Hart has built that program so that those kids will battle every single day and compete,” Weddle said in respect of his opponents from Greene County.

Bryant Jackson led all scorers with 21 points, while Northview’s balanced attack was topped by Hayes with 13 points and Ellis and Mace with 11 apiece.

But this clash will be remembered for its out-of-nowhere final basket.

“That was my first game winner and it couldn’t have come at a better time — with the Pizza Hut Classic,” Ellis reflected. “It felt great.”

“We needed to stay between our man and the basket,” Hart said of his Miners not blocking out Ellis on the final rebound. “We can’t fault their effort. We just made a couple mistakes there at the end. … We did some good things also.”

Now Northview must focus on playing a familiar foe — South Vermillion, which faces the Knights regularly as a member of the Western Indiana Conference — at 1 p.m. today.

“I know that they played us extremely well last year,” Weddle said of the Wildcats. “We were fortunate to win at their place [79-75] last year.”

“I think we can win the whole thing,” Ellis added when asked how far the Knights can go in the 2013 Classic. “We’ve got our eyes on the prize of winning the championship.”

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