ELKO – A couple things were evident from the opening tip in Elko’s second game of the season during the Red Lion Tournament.
The Indians were better on both sides of the ball Friday night against Meridian (Idaho) than they were Thursday in the season opener in Elko’s overtime victory over Reed.
Elko made shots, defended the basketball and gained notable contributions from a number of players – all leading to a sizable lead and eventual 59-53 victory.
Senior Ross Wallis scored the first bucket of the game for Meridian, but Elko took the lead on a three by senior center Jeron Yopps from an assist by senior Ryan Wickersham.
Elko senior Jose Zataray drew a charge on the defensive end, and the Indians jumped to a 6-2 advantage on a triple by senior guard Alex Klekas from a Zataray feed.
The lead grew to 7-2 on a free throw by Yopps, and Elko’s hustle and intensity were apparent early on, senior Angelo Antoniou making a great hustle play – recovering near the elbow for a big block along the baseline as he pinned the ball to the backboard.
Meridian gained its second field goal on a deep shot by sophomore Donovan Sanor, but the Klekas-to-Klekas connection pushed Elko to a 9-5 lead – Alex Klekas firing a bullet entry pass to freshman Sean Klekas on a cut down the right side of the key.
Junior Spencer Fair dropped a pull-up jumper for the Warriors off a screen from the left wing.
Elko senior post Kevin Espinoza made his presence felt for the Indians on multiple possessions, grabbing consecutive defensive rebounds and making himself big and available on the offensive end.
Zataray drove the lane and drew the defense over, looking cross-key for a pass to Espinoza for the finish.
After the first period, Elko led 11-7.
The second quarter shaped the outcome of the ballgame.
Zataray began the frame with a great individual move, keeping the ball high and working his way through a double team and finishing with contact – knocking down the free throw for an And-1.
Yopps made a nifty reverse on the baseline from a post pass by Sean Klekas, who made a free throw for a double-digit lead at 17-7.
A put-back by Yopps capped an 11-0 run for the Indians to start the second quarter, a 13-0 stretch dating back to the end of the first period.
A pull-up jumper from Fair momentarily stemmed the tide for the Warriors, but Yopps buried his second triple of the ballgame for the Indians – putting him in double digits in the first half with 11 points.
Antoniou began to take control of the quarter for the Indians, scoring on an assist from Wickersham.
Zataray dropped a running-bank shot from the left side, and Antoniou knocked down two free throws.
On the other end, he made his second block with another great rotation to stop an open layup, drawing a foul on an offensive rebound on the other end, making one of two from the charity stripe – just like that, Elko had torn off to a 28-9 lead.
Elko’s defense was much more focused, intense and in-place – junior Joe Simpkins adding to the demonstration with a drawn charge.
Sophomore Micah Franklyn dropped a runner for Meridian, junior teammate Spencer Tolman also scoring on a follow.
In the closing seconds, Antoniou recognized the time on the clock and rose up from about 40 feet near the right sideline – buckets.
The all-net bomb brought the crowd to a roar and sent the Indians to the locker room with a 32-13 advantage at the break.
Elko played hard-nosed defense without fouling, committing just five fouls the entire first half.
Sanor scored the first bucket of the third quarter, driving the paint after making a steal.
Yopps finished his second reverse of the game along the baseline, this time going left to right on a pass from Alex Klekas.
Zataray drew his second charge of the ballgame on the defensive end, making a baseline drive of his own with a right-handed finish from the left side on the other end.
Junior Javen Woodall buried a triple for Meridian from the left wing, but Zataray continued his hot game for the Indians with consecutive scores.
An own-miss, put-back gave Elko a 20-point lead at 38-18 and forced a timeout at the 4:27 mark, and a left-handed hook shot put Zataray in double digits with 11 points.
Antoniou reached double figures on Elko’s next bucket, spinning away from a defender at the top of the key and finishing near the block.
Senior Byron Pearce scored the next three points for the Warriors on a deuce and a free throw, Meridian trying to press Elko in an effort to force turnovers.
The Indians easily broke the full-court pressure, Antoniou scoring his 11th and 12th points on a wide-open layup.
Fair made an And-1 for the Warriors, but Yopps scored his 14th point from the free-throw line.
Tolman knocked down a deuce for Meridian, answered by two freebies by Sean Klekas on the other end.
On a deep three for Meridian from the right side that missed wide-left, Tolman made a great tip at the buzzer for the Warriors.
After three quarters, Elko opened a 47-30 lead.
To start the fourth period, Alex Klekas sank a three from the left side.
Junior Preston Chandler followed with a two for the Warriors, but Zataray’s hustle came up big once again for the Indians’ following an Elko miss.
He stole ball from the rebounder, finding Espinoza for an easy bucket on the block.
Meridian scored the next three baskets: a triple by Fair, a runner by Franklyn and a three from Woodall from the left on a pass from Fair.
The 8-0 run was stopped by another offensive put-back by Zataray.
Woodall connected on another three from the left wing, but Zataray made a beautiful up-fake and runner for the Indians.
Sean Klekas and Zataray each made a free throw, followed by a pair by Woodall for the Warriors.
Elko’s final point came from the stripe by junior Ronin Rowley.
The Warriors closed the game on a 8-0 run, but the Indians came away with a 59-53 victory.
Zataray led the Indians with 16 points, scoring 11 after the break.
He was one of three Elko players in double digits, joined by Yopps and Antoniou.
Yopps scored 11 of his 14 in the first half – knocking down two 3s – and Antoniou sank eight of his 12 points before the break, his lone three coming in impressive fashion at the halftime buzzer.
Alex Klekas and Sean Klekas each closed six points for the Indians, Espinoza putting in four points off the bench.
Woodall led Meridian with 14 points, 12 coming by way of four 3s – scoring 11 points in the second half.
Tolman also reached double figures for the Warriors, scoring 11 of his 13 points after the break – closing with three triples.
MERIDIAN – 7 – 6 – 17 – 23 – 53 Total
ELKO – 11 – 21 – 15 – 12 – 59 Total
“I think we played a lot better than we did in our first game. I was happy with how we competed. The defense looked a lot better and we made shots. Could we have played better in the second half? Yes, but I was happy with the effort,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas. “Everyone played hard and we had a lot of guys contribute. Jose played a great game, Angelo was a lot more aggressive and Kevin did a lot of good things. The goal is to improve every game and we were much better than in our first game. We have to improve again in the next one.”
The Indians will close the Red Lion Tournament at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Gymnasium against Reno, which blew out Reed on Friday night by a final score of 72-52.
The first game of the day will take place at noon Saturday, Meridian facing Reed.