AURORA | As much as it was “just another shot” to Unwana Ekiko, it was much more for his team and his school.
In the closing seconds of Saturday night’s Class 5A 2nd round boys basketball game, the Smoky Hill senior guard snuck into the paint, took a feed from teammate Chris Williams and banked home a 2-foot shot to beat the buzzer and lift the seventh-seeded Buffs to a 47-46 upset of second-seeded Regis Jesuit.
Ekiko’s huge bucket sent coach Keenon Clement’s Smoky Hill team into 5A’s Sweet 16, the program’s first trip that deep into the postseason since 2007, when it was coached by current Regis Jesuit coach Ken Shaw, who was on the opposite sideline.
“I told Chris, ‘this is our game, we’re not going to lose’; he had the pass, gave it to me and I made the shot,” said Ekiko, whose winning shot earned Smoky Hill a trip to Arapahoe — another of the five Centennial League teams left among the final 16 — on Wednesday.
“It wasn’t too hard; I shoot that layup every day, so it was just another shot,” added Ekiko, who finished with 10 points as one of three Buffs in double figures along with Trent Clay (15) and Williams (14).
The dramatic final sequence became necessary when Smoky Hill (15-10) couldn’t hold onto a four-point lead it built with 43.5 seconds remaining. Ekiko drained a big 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 41-41, then Williams split the defense for a layup and Connor Mooney made two free throws to put the Buffs ahead 45-41.
Regis Jesuit’s Kip Boryla (15 points) worked inside for a layup and got fouled, converting the free throw to make it a one-point game. After Smoky Hill’s Dalontae Kelly missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw, junior Bryan Staerkel — who scored a game-high 16 points — knifed inside for a layup to put the Raiders in front 46-45 with just 7.9 seconds left.
Coming out of a time out, Williams drove up the left side of the floor, drew a crowd of Regis Jesuit defenders to him and slipped the ball to absolutely wide open Ekiko, who finished.
“We had the exact same situation at Overland, Chris going to the rim and Unwana in the same spot,” Clement said. “It wasn’t what we drew up, but they learned from it. Unwana slid to that spot, Chris made the pass and Unwana made actually a pretty easy shot to win a huge basketball game. …I’m so happy for the kids. This is a memory they’ll cherish forever and I’m glad they’re going to have it.”
Added Williams of the winning sequence: “I knew I was going to try to go straight to the rim, but when I saw three kids collapse on me, I had to dish it off to Unwana for the layup. …I prayed he was going to make it and he did.”
Shaw wanted his team to make the ballhandler take extra time getting up the court and protect the rim, which his players did, but the extra pass created the perfect opening for the winning shot.
Regis Jesuit lost on a similar type of buzzer-beater on the road at Mountain Vista earlier this season.
“It’s one of those things you really can’t draw up that scenario, it just kindof happens,” Shaw said. “They made the big play down at the end.”
Ekiko’s basket brought a flood of Smoky Hill fans onto the court in celebration. They mobbed the players, lifting Clay onto their shoulders and carrying him around, and lingered after the game for a long time to celebrate.
“Our fans have been behind us all year, so this is for them, for us and for coach, but we did it for ourselves mostly,” Williams said. “We just want to keep it going.”
Clement believes his group could keep going if it plays the way it did against Regis Jesuit, coming out by making shots — the Buffs scored 21 points in the first quarter — playing good defense as it did in limited the Raiders’ effective penetration and kick game and believing down the final second.
“We have to get through Arapahoe and everybody knows how tough they are,” said Clement, whose team won 52-45 at Arapahoe on Feb. 5 after losing by 14 points in the first meeting.
“It’s a tough matchup, but in the Sweet 16 everybody’s tough,” he added. “But you know what? We’re a tough matchup, too.”
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(7) SMOKY HILL 47, (2) REGIS JESUIT 46
Score by quarters:
Smoky Hill 21 5 6 15 — 47
Regis Jesuit 15 11 8 12 — 46
SMOKY HILL (47)
Trent Clay 6 1-1 15, Connor M0oney 0 2-2 2, Unwana Ekiko 4 0-0 10, Chris Williams 6 1-2 14, Octavian Walker 0 0-0 0, Dalontae Kelly 2 0-1 4, Jeremy Campbell 1 0-0 2, Trei Major 0 0-0 0, Khalil Combs 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 4-6 47.
REGIS JESUIT (46)
Taylor Kallsen 2 0-0 5, Bryan Staerkel 7 2-2 16, Geoff Kelly 1 0-0 2, Devin Kadillak 1 2-2 4, Kip Boryla 6 3-3 15, Zach Smith 1 0-0 2, Cam Beards 1 0-0 2. Totals 12 5-5 46.
3-point field goals — Smoky Hill (5): Trent Clay 2, Unwana Ekiko 2, Chris Williams; Regis Jesuit: Taylor Kallsen. Total fouls — Smoky Hill 11, Regis Jesuit 9. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — None.