Down 25-21 at halftime, Hillsboro High School head coach Darrel Knoll asked the boys’ team to clean up their effort on the defensive end, cut harder on offense, and attack the boards at both ends of the floor if the Trojans wanted to win the game.
“We needed to make the hustle plays. That’s what coach talked about at halftime,” senior forward Jesse Allen said.
Allen was instrumental in a hustle play that ended the game with a Hillsboro victory. Hillsboro was on defense, up three with 24.5 seconds to go in the game. As the Panthers throughout the contest, they put the ball in the hands of senior Quintin Crandall, their top playmaker.
Hillsboro defensive stopper Evan Ollenburger forced the Nickerson guard into a difficult missed shot the previous possession. This time he forced Crandall to the wing. The Nickerson gunner shot an off-balance 3-pointer that Ollenburger nearly blocked with a well-timed contest.
The ball clanged off the front iron but landed in the hands of Nickerson forward Ryan O’Toole. With Allen positioned between O’Toole and Crandall, he dived toward the baseline to knock away a pass attempt from forward to guard. He tapped the ball with his left hand to Hillsboro point guard Brett Weinbrenner to give Hillsboro the victory, 51-48.
“That was just one of those instinct plays,” Allen said.
Allen and Ollenburger were key to the Trojans’ energy and effort all night.
On the first two plays of the second half, Allen and junior forward Josh Wiebe both grabbed offensive rebounds on the same possession; Allen eventually hit one free throw at the charity stripe after being fouled on the put back attempt.
Allen had 3 offensive rebounds in the second half and the led the Trojans with 5 boards.
On the other end, Ollenburger was able to swipe with his left hand and pop the ball high up into the air out of Crandall’s mitts. The play caused the Nickerson guard to foul his Hillsboro counterpart in frustration.
“The second half, we definitely played with more energy,” Knoll said. “We won the second half by 11 points.”
Although Allen gave credit to his coach for the halftime pep talk, the Trojans may have been inspired by a play that occurred midway through the second quarter.
Hillsboro senior forward Brandon Rooker forced his opponent to fumble the basketball. He subsequently dived for the ball near the Hillsboro bench. His hustle created a Nickerson turnover … and chipped a portion of Rooker’s right front tooth away when he forcefully hit the hardwood.
“In a one possession game, that was a big play,” Knoll said. “There’s never a lack of effort from Brandon.”
“I’d rather have anyone else in practice guard me,” Allen said. “When he does it, I’m afraid I’ll get injured. I love the way he plays.”
Allen and Ollenburger led the Trojan offense. Allen was the team leader in points with 14. He went to the line twice at the end of the game and hit both free throws to extend Hillsboro leads. Allen did not attempt a 3-pointer in the contest but hit a variety of 2-point baskets. Highlights include a spinning transition layup in the first quarter and a pull-up jumper at the right elbow, which put Hillsboro up 49-45.
Allen said he and Knoll talked a lot about shot selection in practice and studied film for better offensive opportunities.
“I think all the shots he took were good shots to take,” Knoll said. “I think he really embraced his role tonight. He was solid on the defensive end too.”
Ollenburger led the team in assists with 4. He was one of five Trojans to record an assist.
Another offensive plus for Hillsboro was that Weinbrenner seems to have found his long distance stroke. The Trojan point guard nailed two 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter. He was the second leading scorer for Hillsboro with 13 points. Sophomore shooting guard Christian Ratzlaff added 9 points.
“I’m confident we’re going to start hitting more of those shots,” Knoll said.
Allen said the win against Nickerson was necessary with the Trojan Classic this week. The Trojans played Goodland Tuesday.
“We came in thinking we have to have this game,” Allen said. “They’re a tough team and this is a tough a place to play.
“Our goal is to win the Trojan Classic.”