Osage’s Elley and the defense spark Indians to win over Eldon in regular season finale
Osage senior Drew Elley said his coaches have been telling him to shoot more.
Turns out, they may be onto something.
Playing in the final regular season game of his career against rival Eldon on Friday night, Elley found his shot in the gym he has played in so many times before. He nailed four of the team’s 11 3-pointers on his way to a team-leading 21 points and the defense did its part, too, forcing 20 turnovers as Osage topped the Mustangs 70-56.
“It feels great,” Elley said after he posted a career high, noting that he feels like defensive pressure has limited his scoring opportunities in the past. “I just started pulling the trigger today and was making it. I felt like I couldn’t miss… it was just one of those nights.”
Not to mention that he didn’t even start scoring until the second quarter. That is when the Indians really started to settle in Friday night after both teams were tied at 11 after the first. Osage went on a 9-0 run that turned into a 16-4 run to give the team a little cushion.
“We got to have another guy who can come off and score and I thought the night was just huge for us with Drew, the way he came off shooting the basketball,” Osage coach Craig Engelbrecht said. “And, he played good on defense, too. He just had the whole package tonight.”
Speaking of that defense, Osage’s aggressive full-court pressure started to take its toll on Eldon as the game wore on. Both teams just had two turnovers each after the first quarter and the visiting Mustangs actually started the game with a 9-0 run to lead by as many as nine before the Indians responded and tied things up with a 9-0 run of their own. Eldon went on to cough up six turnovers in each of the final three quarters and the team never got within eight points the rest of the way as the home team went on to lead by as many as 23.
“I thought our energy was good all night long. We got off to a slows start at the beginning of the game, but then the guys kind of picked up their level of intensity,” Engelbrecht said. “I thought our press was really good. I thought Alton (Drace) did a great job in the middle running through some passing angles and guys were hustling back to get deflections so they (Eldon) didn’t get layups. I thought that was our best game, energy-wise and effort-wise.”
For Elley and company, it was as simple as not wanting to lose. The senior said he and his teammates had to dig in when they got down and also had to find a way to slow down Eldon senior Aidan Wells who led all scorers with 31 points on the evening.
“He is a great shooter. He had 31, I think, it was insane,” Elley said. “We just had to make sure to keep him covered the whole game and he still made shots.”
Freshman Hunter Hees posted 10 points for the Mustangs and sophomore Austin Rush finished with seven.
Eldon could not have asked for a much better start, but just could not maintain that pace over the long run.
"We just wanted to continue to execute the way we prepared and not let their aggressiveness and 3-pointers they made change our focus and perspective. Obviously, that didn't happen like we wanted," Eldon coach Cory Casey said.
"We wanted to adjust by running our press break more effectively, but guys were failing to get to the correct spots in a timely manner."
When things did go correctly, though, Wells made a habit of knocking down shots in the final regular season game of his career.
"Aidan showed tremendous poise offensively and I was proud of his effort and focus to get the shots consistently that we needed," Casey said.
Meanwhile, the Indians benefited from a fairly balanced attack on the offensive end as two other players joined Elley in double figures. Both junior Alton Drace and senior Quentin Britton posted 11 points each, junior Grant Steen added nine points and fellow junior Brockton McLaughlin finished with eight. Osage also kept things fairly clean in the turnover department, only finishing with eight turnovers overall.
““I always like to have a team that has balanced scoring and, of course, everybody does,” Engelbrecht stated. “You like to have that guy who steps up, the ‘Alpha’ guy who steps up, plays well and scores for you. But, a team is hard to guard if you can get five or six people scoring in double figures or at least being a threat to score.”
That kind of chemistry is good to have for the postseason, too, and Elley said he feels like things are clicking at the right time. After posting a career high, he’d like his career to continue a little longer.
“It is now or never. If we lose, my basketball career is done and if we win, we play again. So, I want one more week,” he said.
Osage (9-14, 3-4 Tri-County Conference) is the second seed in the Class 4 District 10 Tournament and will host No. 3 Versailles (11-13) on Thursday in the semifinals at 6 p.m. The Indians previously beat the Tigers twice this season in a 104-94 win at the Eldon Tournament and a 101-88 win at Versailles.
It is 0-0 now and everyone has the same record and everyone starts off on the same playing field. I’m just excited we get to play a game here on our home floor,” Engelbrecht said. “We’ve played Versailles on a neutral court and we’ve played them at their place, so, I guess it’s only right to play them on our home court. That will be an exciting game, you know how Versailles plays up and down.
“You just don’t want to put more pressure on the kids than they need to have on them so, just go out and play and the best team wins.”
Eldon (3-16, 0-7 Tri-County Conference) will be the fifth seed in the same district tournament and their postseason will begin on Tuesday against No. 4 Warsaw (7-13) at 6 p.m. That game will be played at Warsaw.
"We can play with and win in this district. The task before us is to execute effectively for four quarters, something we've struggled with all year" Casey said. "If we can do that, we have a legitimate chance."
Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-346-2132