ELKO – When the Elko boys basketball team stepped on the floor Tuesday at Centennial Gymnasium, the Indians were riding a 71-game home winning streak.
The Spring Creek Spartans played hard, executed and competed at a higher level – the Indians now having to start a new streak – the Spartans extending to a 10-point victory down the stretch, beating Elko 61-51.
Almost six years ago to the day, the Indians lost on Feb. 3, 2012, at home to West Wendover by a final score of 55-49.
The coach of the Wolverines at the time?
Current Spring Creek head coach Scott Carsrud.
Spring Creek did not just hang around and beat the Indians at the end on a prayer; the Spartans dominated the action for the majority of the contest.
The Spartans held a 15-12 lead after the end of the first period, the score only cut to three on a late triple by Elko senior Angelo Antoniou.
Spring Creek scored the ball with balance in the opening frame, senior Thomas Ledford leading the way with just four points – six Spartans finding the scoreboard in the first eight minutes.
Senior center Jake Oliphant stepped outside and knocked down a three, which sparked a hot-shooting night for the generally inside-oriented offense.
Elko senior Jose Zataray provided half of Elko’s 12 points in the first quarter, the Indians also gaining a three from junior Ronin Rowley.
As effective as Spring Creek’s offense was in the first quarter, the Spartans were even more productive in the second – scoring 18 points – as Elko played poor defense, especially on weak-side passes and in its rotation.
The Spartans knocked down two 3s in the frame, one each by Oliphant and senior Levi Yaunick – Yaunick’s triple coming against tough defense in front of the Elko student section from the left wing.
Yaunick and Oliphant combined for 14 of Spring Creek’s 18 points in the quarter – notching seven each.
The Indians barely managed to notch double figures in the second period, finishing with an even 10 – a combination of pesky defense by the Spartans and ice-cold shooting from Elko, both outside and at the rim.
Elko finished 2-for-13 from three in the first half, both makes from distance coming in the first quarter.
Zataray scored 10 of Elko’s 22 points at the break, but Spring Creek led by 11 at 33-22.
Elko’s only dominant stretch of the ballgame came in a three-minute span, a big one.
Out of the locker room, the Indians took their play to another level and looked like the No. 1 team in the league – busting an 11-0 run in 1:30.
Senior Jeron Yopps scored on a dish from junior Alex Klekas, senior Ryan Wickersham made two free throws after a steal, Klekas splashed a triple on a save by Zataray, Yopps finished on the baseline from a feed by freshman Sean Klekas following a Spring Creek turnover and Zataray made a nice shake in the lane and tied the game.
Elko took the lead on Alex Klekas’ second three of the period, the Indians finding the high side at 36-33.
Generally, those have been the types of runs that break teams when playing Elko.
Not Spring Creek.
The Spartans stuck with their game plan, executed and fought.
The Spartans were patient on offense, looked for open shots and converted with regularity.
Miner gave the Spartans the lead with a free throw, but Elko went up with a pump fake by Sean Klekas.
Oliphant scored from midrange, matched with a deuce by Zataray on a strong move.
Oliphant scored four in a row for the Spartans, sinking a pair of free throws and finding deep position in the post and scoring on a feed from sophomore Reed Westwood.
The Indians regained the lead on a runner by Antoniou, but the Spartans gained a 43-42 advantage going into the final frame on another pair of freebies by Westwood.
Oliphant grabbed an offensive board for a 45-42 lead to start the fourth, the Indians cutting the lead to one with a drive by Sean Klekas.
Senior Dakota Larson used his speed to drive the baseline and finished at the rim, Zataray trimming the deficit to a single point once again with hard work on the offensive glass.
The game appeared to be a back-and-forth struggle that would last to the final seconds, but the Spartans commanded the final minutes – closing the game with a 14-5 run.
Patience, combined with timely aggression – equaled easy looks and free throws.
Ledford and Miner were big in crunch time for the Spartans, combining for 10 points in the fourth quarter – each scoring a field goal and making three free throws apiece.
One possession, the Spartans effectively chewed nearly 45 seconds off the clock – resulting with a dribble drive and finish at the rim by Miner.
Larson made another baseline finish on the left side and knocked down a pair of free throws, and Yaunick and Oliphant each added buckets in the fourth.
Spring Creek outscored Elko 18-9 in the fourth, the Indians’ final five points coming from Alex Klekas on two field goals and a free throw.
The Spartans – namely Oliphant and Ledford – did a great job of limiting the Indians to one shot most of the time on the defensive glass, high-pointing the ball and pulling down strong boards.
Elko went back to shooting a poor percentage from the floor, many misses coming on clean looks at the rim on jumpers and short shots in the paint.
Spring Creek pulled away late and handed Elko a 10-point loss on its home floor, the first defeat for the Indians at Centennial Gymnasium in six years.
Oliphant scored a game-high 20 points for the Spartans, who also earned 11 points each from Yaunick and Miner.
Elko placed two players in double figures, led by 16 points from Zataray.
Alex Klekas finished with 13 points for the Indians.
Ledford scored five of his nine points in the final frame for the Spartans, Larson finishing with six points for Spring Creek.
Rowley added six points for the Indians – all coming in the first half.
SPRING CREEK – 15 – 18 – 10 – 18 – 61 Total
ELKO – 12 – 10 – 20 – 9 – 51 Total
“We hit three 3s in the first half and executed very well. The kids competed really hard,” said coach Carsrud. “Winning here is really tough; no one has done it in six years. I don’t when the last time was that Spring Creek won here. Oliphant had a big game. He and Ledford were really tough on the backboards.”
The Spartans were lights-out from the free-throw line, shooting 18-for-21 as a team, also notching a remarkable 62-percent clip from the floor.
While Elko made fours 3s, the Indians shot just 16 percent from distance.
The Spartans kept their hopes of a No. 2 seed and first-round bye alive – improving to 10-5 in the Division 3A North – trailing 10-4 Fallon by one game.
Elko lost for the first time in league play, dropping to 14-1.
In the grand scheme of things, the loss changes nothing for the Indians in the regional tournament – Elko locked into the No. 1 seed – but have to get back to program staples: playing hard-nosed defense, rebounding and competing.