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BOYS' BASKETBALL: Panthers remain perfect

Matt Huss/Daily Globe Southwest Star Concept's Jeremy Crocker (middle) goes up for a reverse layup as Ellsworth's Casey Schilling (left), Tom Nolte (3) and Trevor Gruis (41) defend during Monday night's boys' basketball game in Okabena.

OKABENA -- Six players scored between eight and 15 points for Ellsworth Monday night, as the Panthers wrapped up another undefeated Red Rock Conference championship with a 77-65 victory over the Southwest Star Concept Quasars in a well-played boys' basketball game.

Ellsworth (23-3, 17-0) improves its Red Rock Conference winning streak to an amazing 51 games (three straight undefeated titles), and the top-seeded Panthers will play either Fulda or Murray County Central in the quarterfinals of the Section 3A South tournament Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) in Worthington.

"That is quite an accomplishment for these guys," first-year Ellsworth head coach Tyler Morris said after the game. "We are definitely happy about winning the conference title again, but we still have some work to do and goals that we want to achieve."

The two-time defending Class A state champions had tremendous offensive balance Monday night and finished the first half by outscoring the Quasars 20-10 in the last 5:42 to take a 38-28 halftime lead.

SSC (16-7, 11-6), which finishes fifth in the conference standings, cut the lead to five points four different times in the second half, but Ellsworth always had an answer and prevailed for a 12-point victory.

"We played with a lot of intensity tonight, and we gave ourselves a chance," SSC head coach Tim Owen said. "I'm happy with the way we played, as we took advantage of some mismatches and got the ball inside throughout the game. Ellsworth is obviously very good, but we played right with them for most of the first half and did a lot of things very well."

Senior William Cranston (six rebounds) poured in a game-high 25 points to spark the Quasars, while seniors Ben Scheevel (17 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) and Kirk McBreen (15 points) also had big games.

SSC had a trio of three-point leads in the first half (10-7, 12-9 and 14-11). Cranston scored SSC's first four points before senior Cory Pelzel meshed an 18-footer from out top, and senior Jeremy Crocker scored on a nifty reverse layup and also fed Scheevel for a hoop in the lane to make it 10-7 at the 11:43 mark.

Scheevel hit a right-elbow jumper to make it 12-9 with 10:30 to go, and junior Alex Collin dropped in a tough shot high off the glass in the lane to put SSC up 14-11 with 9:33 remaining.

Ellsworth, though, was also scoring well during those first eight-plus minutes. Junior Matt Buntjer (13 points) scored a pair of interior hoops, and senior Tom Nolte (14 points, 10 rebounds) swished a 3-pointer, scored on a hard drive and passed to freshman Casey Schilling (team-high 15 points, three steals) for a hoop along the left baseline to account for the Panthers' first 11 points.

Senior Adam Van Der Stoep (eight points) then tied the game at 14 by coming off a screen and banging in a right-wing 3-pointer at the 9:10 mark.

The game was tied at 18 following an eight-foot shot on the right baseline from Cranston with 6:27 left. Nolte and freshman teammate Dalton Huisman (13 points, all in the first half) then buried back-to-back 3-pointers to counter a sweet driving hoop from Cranston and make it 24-20 Ellsworth with 5:05 left.

Ellsworth, which had a 37-21 rebounding advantage (13 offensive rebounds), was later up 31-22 behind four points from junior Trevor Gruis (12 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and a 3-point splash from Huisman, but SSC was within four (31-27) after McBreen fired in a trey from the top of the key at the 2:27 mark.

Huisman answered with another long-distance shot in the left corner, and Nolte found Schilling for a hoop on a back-door cut along the left baseline to help the Panthers increase their lead to 38-28 by halftime.

Ellsworth stayed in control to start the second half and was up 45-35 when senior BJ Kruse knocked down an 18-footer in the right corner with 14:32 remaining.

The Panthers later led 50-40, but Scheevel (9-for-10 from the free-throw line) sank a pair of foul shots before McBreen dialed in a 3-pointer from out top to make it 50-45 at the 11:09 mark.

After two free throws by Nolte, Cranston scored on a quick drive down the lane to make it 52-47 with 8:22 left. Schilling answered with a jump-stop basket in the paint to put Ellsworth back up by seven.

Scheevel made it 54-49 with a dazzling spin-dribble 12-footer in the lane, but Buntjer responded with a short bank shot with 6:24 left.

Scheevel then found senior Andrew Rossow underneath for a hoop to make it 56-51 at the 5:59 mark. Ellsworth, though, scored the next four points on inside baskets from Buntjer and Schilling to go up 60-51.

A strong post-up basket on the left block and a free throw (three-point play) by Gruis helped the Panthers open up a 64-53 lead with 2:59 left.

SSC had one final push, as Cranston had a bounce-pass assist to Scheevel for a bucket on the right baseline, converted a three-point play after a quick move in the lane and sank two free throws to bring the Quasars within seven (69-62) with 52.8 seconds to go.

Ellsworth, though, went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line to counter three straight foul shots by McBreen to create the final 12-point margin.

"SSC is a good team, and we knew it was going to be a tough game to win," Morris said. "We played as a team, kept our emotions in check and matched their physicality. Our balanced scoring was also a key, as was our offensive rebounding."

SSC, seeded sixth in the Section 3A South tournament, plays No. 11 Round Lake-Brewster in the opening round Thursday night (6 p.m.) at Westbrook.

Ellsworth 38 39 -- 77

SSC 28 37 -- 65

EHS (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): Nolte 2-2-4-14, Kruse 0-1-0-2, Schilling 0-5-5-15, Van Der Stoep 2-1-0-8, Huisman 3-1-2-13, Gruis 0-4-4-12, Buntjer 0-4-5-13. Totals: 7-18-20-77.

SSC (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): McBreen 3-1-4-15, Pelzel 0-1-0-2, Scheevel 0-4-9-17, Rossow 0-1-0-2, Cranston 0-10-5-25, Crocker 0-1-0-2, Collin 0-1-0-2. Totals: 3-19-18-65.