Second wildcard invite.
Second over time.
Second State Championship.
No problem. Seventh-seeded Exeter-Milligan made the most of its second wildcard invite and defeated the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 1 seeds en route to claiming its second State Championship of this school year by getting past Bancroft-Rosalie 67-62 in double overtime on Saturday in the finals of the NSAA Class D-2 State Basketball Tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Timberwolves claimed the D-2 State Football title in November at Memorial Stadium also in Lincoln.
“It was good to get the opportunity to get down here and play in the tournament,” E-M head coach Dean Filipi said. “These kids are so willing to work. So willing to listen and then go out and do what they do. They’ve been a super great group to work with and I couldn’t be happier for them. They’ve allowed me to push them hard…these guys are just a great bunch.”
Things didn’t get out to the best start on Saturday afternoon, as the No. 1 state-rated Panthers (27-2) lived up to their billing and raced out to a 22-15 first-quarter advantage. A Kyle Jensen traditional three-point play had E-M (21-7) within three at 26-23 in the second quarter. The Timberwolves even had the B-R advantage trimmed to just one later, but a blistering 50-percent first-half shooting performance had the Panthers up 32-27 at halftime.
“They were getting up and down the floor too much for our liking,” Filipi said. “We’re more of a traditional half court team. Again though, our kids showed their composure, stayed focused and came right back in the second half.”
The second half belonged to Derek Luzum and Sam Zeleny for E-M. Luzum sat out much of the first half after being tagged for his second foul and Zeleny began to heat up from behind the 3-point arc. Luzum ended the contest with a game-high 28 points and Zeleny netted 17.
“I had a kind of rough first two games down here,” Zeleny said. “Some one always seems to step up for us…tonight it was me making some threes.”
The Timberwolves outscored B-R 14-9 in the third period to lead the slugfest for the first time at 41-40, after a Cameron White put back, heading into the final period in the home of the Huskers. Both teams couldn’t pull away during the final stanza and E-M tied the game at 50 on a Luzum three-point play. B-R held the ball for the final 40 seconds of regulation put were unable to hit the game-winner.
After Jensen tied the contest at 55-55 in the first over time by sinking the front end of an one-and-one, the senior football All-Stater missed the second but lunged for the rebound and flung a wild shot at the basket which Luzum rebounded and missed a three-foot or less put back attempt.
“Oh I was so mad,” Luzum said. “I should have made that. But, I still knew we could do it.”
The senior was prophetic as the Timberwolves controlled the second extra period from start to finish leading 60-56, 62-58, 65-62 and finally 67-62 at the buzzer.
“Once we got up (in the second over time), I knew we were going to win it,” Luzum said. “Both of our championships have been an amazing feeling.”
Jensen was just happy to get to play in Lincoln after the Timberwolves played so poorly in the second half against Falls City Sacred Heart in the D2-1 District final.
“We dropped an egg in the Falls City (Sacred Heart) game,” Jensen said. “We did everything down here…we played hard…we chucked up some threes…we hustled, we rebounded. We did what we needed to win. We got it done.”
Filipi, who is also the head coach of the E-M football team, liked his team’s chances going into over time.
“The nice thing about them is they know how to compete and they also know how to stay on an even keel,” Filipi said. “I knew we just needed to stay focused and stay true to ourselves. We did a better job on the boards in the second half and started moving better without the ball. Sam (Zeleny) knocked down a few to get us going. This bunch is such a team-orientated group. Derek (Luzum) also made some big shots for us. When he’s taking and making those type of shots, that’s a very good thing for us.”
Luzum ended up scoring 65 points (21.7 per game average) for the Timberwolves in Lincoln. Jensen ended the final with 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Luzum snagged 14 boards and Zeleny dished out five assists. White and Broc Mueller each scored four points on Saturday and Dalton Zelenka added a 3-pointer for the winners.
E-M owned a decided advantage on the glass (41-26); made 3-pointers (8-4) and made free throws (15-6) on Saturday. The Timberwolves ended up shooting just 37 percent for the game (22-for-58) in the wide-open stadium setting. The Panthers committed 20 fouls compared to 15 for E-M and turned the ball over 12 times compared to 10.
Jensen scored 48 points for E-M in Lincoln and Zeleny netted 23. The Timberwolves began play at State on Thursday with a 49-40 win over second-seeded Wilcox-Hildreth. Behind a stifling first-half defensive effort, E-M led the Falcons 21-10 at halftime. Jensen scored 20 points against W-H and Luzum added 14. Jarett Maxson added six points for the Timberwolves and Mueller netted four.
E-M rolled past third-seeded Minatare 60-36 on Friday afternoon in the semi-finals to advance to Saturday’s D-2 Final. Luzum powered in 23 points against the Indians and Jensen added 17. Maxson added seven and Zelenka contributed four. The Timberwolves shot 51 percent as a team (24-for-47) in the surprisingly easy win.
“Our aggressiveness really showed in this game,” Filipi said. “We owned the defensive boards and gave them no second chance shots. Derek (Luzum) also had a good game which opens up our other players. We’ve been unselfish all year long.”
E-M was up 25-13 at half and finished the contest out very impressively—dominating the fourth quarter 21-10 and punching its ticket to the D-2 State final.
“The kids have worked their tails off all season and this is a good reward for them,” Filipi said. “These is a group who loves to compete. I love their competitiveness.”