JEROME, Idaho – Adjusting to the length of the Idaho Falls Tigers took the Elko basketball team a quarter on Thursday, making changes defensively and winning third place in the Magic Valley Holiday Classic by a final score of 53-46.
The Tigers dominated inside during the first quarter – Idaho Falls having three players going 6-foot-6 or taller, including a 6-foot-10 junior – easily beating Elko’s man defense in the early going.
Elko was ice cold from the floor to start the ballgame, not attempting to challenge the Tigers’ size inside and missing shots from the perimeter.
Idaho Falls opened a 6-0 lead with buckets from juniors Cam Conrad, Paul Wilson and Braxton Ball.
Elko junior Alex Klekas scored the Indians’ first points of the game from the line, ending a four-minute scoreless stretch.
The Indians had several good looks from beyond the arc but could not connect, multiple shots resulting in airballs.
Ball put the Tigers on top 8-2, the leading reaching 10-2 on a bucket by senior Noah Hillam.
Elko’s first field goal came on a three by junior Ronin Rowley from the left wing, but the 6-10 Wilson gained inside position and notched the final score of the period.
After the first, Idaho Falls led 12-5.
The Indians found more offensive success in the second, stemming from a better defensive effort.
Elko extended its pressure beyond the three-point line, making entry passes to the post hard to make and rare to come by.
Klekas began the frame with a strong drive down the lane for a layup.
The Indians executed on the offensive end through great ball movement, Yopps pulling the Indians to within three with a pretty ball fake and jump hook.
Elko began to front the post on defense, making several tips and steals on passes that needed to be lofted higher.
The Indians tied the game at the 4:45 mark, a three by freshman Sean Klekas making the score 12-12.
Idaho Falls took a timeout, but the Indians came out of the break the stronger team – despite the size disadvantage.
Yopps earned an easy bucket from a textbook pick-and-roll with senior Ryan Wickersham, and Sean Klekas nailed a tough, Kobe-Bryant type fall-away from the right wing for a 16-12 lead.
He also scored the Indians’ next bucket, trading scores with Idaho Falls junior Kalvin Bowen.
A free throw by Elko senior Angelo Antoniou gave the Indians a 19-14 lead, and Sean Klekas continued to feel the range – splashing a hesitation, pull-up jumper from the right baseline to close the half.
After being dominated in the first period, the Indians took to the fight to the Tigers’ cage with a 14-2 period in the second.
At the break, Elko led 21-14.
Elko gave Idaho Falls three shots on its opening possession of the third quarter, the final tickling twine on a three from Conrad.
Elko senior Jose Zataray gave a little shake and dropped a jump hook for the Indians, and Yopps went on a personal 5-0 run – hitting a turnaround from the left baseline and stepping out for a deep three on an assist from Sean Klekas.
With six minutes remaining in the third, Elko built a 28-17 lead.
A pretty spin move freed Ball for a short shot in the key for Idaho Falls, but Alex Klekas answered with a finish on the bounce for the Indians.
Antoniou dialed up and collected a wild, And-1 finish while falling to the ground.
The free throw was missed but the Indians hustled to the ball and made the rebound, the rock finding Alex Klekas for a three from the top of the arc and a five-point possession.
One of Idaho Falls’ first signs of life in a quarter and a half came with a bang, junior Chase Baker driving the lane and throwing down a strong flush at the tin.
Rowley gave the Indians their biggest lead of the game with a three from the right corner, giving Elko a 17-point cushion at 38-21.
Baker made two free throws for the Tigers, but Elko took a 38-23 lead entering the fourth period – going on a 33-11 run in the second and third frames.
The action picked up in the final quarter, Idaho Falls playing out of desperation.
Wilson scored on a pretty feed from Baker, followed by a bucket from Conrad on an assist from Wilson.
The third three of the game by Rowley stemmed the tide, and Sean Klekas was handed a gimme layup after the Tigers attempted a save beneath their own basket.
Elko led 43-27, but Bowen hit a hanging floater for the Tigers.
Wickersham put the ball on the deck and went to the rim for a 45-29 advantage.
Idaho Falls began it comeback.
Ball found an easy score on the left block from a great feed from Bowen, Conrad hit a runner and Wilson made a free throw.
Bowen grabbed an offensive rebound and drove the right wing for a finish with English, slicing the lead to nine a 45-36 – capping a 7-0 run.
Elko took a timeout with 3:10 remaining, but senior Payton Powell made a free throw and inched closer at 45-37.
Antoniou buried a pair of free throws for a 10-point lead for the Indians, and Elko went to the bonus with 2:20 remaining.
Alex Klekas knocked down a pair from the stripe.
Elko committed a silly foul away from the ball and sent Bowen to the line, but the Tigers were slapped with a technical foul for jawing at the officials at the stripe.
Bowen buried both of his attempts, but Alex Klekas calmly sank both freebies on the other end.
Wilson cut the lead to 10 with a put-back, and Bowen completed a three-point play from the stripe – cutting the lead to 51-44.
One of the differences in Thursday’s game compared to Elko’s loss to Minico on Wednesday was the Indians ability to make free throws – Alex Klekas finishing his third perfect trip of the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
Bowen notched the final bucket of the game, but the Tigers ran out of time – Elko winning third place in the Magic Valley Holiday Classic with a 53-46 victory.
Alex Klekas scored a game-high 15 points – 11 coming in the second half — for the Indians, who scored the ball with balance.
Sean Klekas finished in double digits with 11 points, scoring nine before halftime.
Rowley and Yopps gave Elko nine points apiece, all of Rowley’s points coming on three 3s.
Antoniou closed with seven points for the Indians.
“We didn’t start the game very well. We came out kind of flat, and they’re a big team for sure,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas. “Our trap gave them some trouble, and we played well in the second and third quarters. We did some good things. Shooting 13-for-17 from the line was a lot better than 4-for-14.”
ELKO – 5 – 16 – 17 – 15 – 53 Total
IDAHO FALLS – 12 – 2 – 9 – 23 – 46 Total
The Indians (9-1 overall) will not play another game in 2017, waiting for a return to league play of the Division 3A North at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 2 in Spring Creek.