Bellevue West got its rugged weekend off to a rousing start Friday night, thanks in large part to CJ Johnson.
The junior guard scored 24 points as the eighth-ranked Thunderbirds rallied for a 65-61 home win over fourth-ranked Omaha Central. Bellevue West (16-5) will ride that momentum into a game Saturday night at second-ranked Omaha South.
“This weekend is big for us for wild-card points,'' Bellevue West coach Doug Woodard said. “We still have a chance to host a district, and we'll definitely host one if we can win tomorrow night.''
Central (19-4) trailed 27-23 at halftime but rode a 27-point third quarter to a 50-40 advantage heading into the fourth.
“Coach wasn't happy with us after that,'' Johnson said. “But we had a great fourth quarter and were able to fight back.''
The Thunderbirds, who still trailed by 10 early in the final period, went on a 12-1 run to take a one-point lead with three minutes left. That stretch was highlighted by 3-pointers from starting guard Malik Hluchoweckyj and reserve guard Brad Cluff.
Cluff's 3-pointer from the corner gave Bellevue West its first lead of the fourth quarter and ignited the home fans.
“Brad is our relief pitcher,'' Woodard said. “He's like Mariano Rivera when he comes into the game.''
The Eagles got it tied one more time but Johnson hit a layup and three free throws to put Bellevue West on top 61-56 with 1:11 left. Central closed within three twice in the final minute but the Thunderbirds made just enough free throws — 9 of 15 in the fourth quarter — to hold on for the victory.
“Even when we were behind, we still had confidence we could do it,'' Johnson said. “This was a big win for us.''
Johnson, who scored 18 in the second half, was 7 of 13 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free-throw line. He also had six rebounds and two steals.
“He played great,'' Central coach Eric Behrens said. “And we didn't make the plays that could have stretched our lead.''
The Thunderbirds, who outscored Central 25-11 in the fourth quarter, shot 46 percent from the field and 68 percent from the line. The Eagles were 38 percent from the field and 70 percent on free throws.
Hluchoweckyj finished with 11 points, Kael Strawmier added 10 and Christian Hatterle scored nine. Strawmier and Austin Moore each pulled down six rebounds, the same as Johnson.
Senior forward Tre'Shawn Thurman led the Eagles with 19 points, though he was 0 for 6 from the field in the fourth quarter. He also was hampered by foul trouble after picking up his third shortly before halftime and his fourth late in the third quarter.
Jarek Coles scored 15 for Central and Rashad McCoy had 13.
“Central was hitting its shots (9 of 13, including five 3-pointers) in that third quarter,'' Woodard said. “But we defended better in the fourth.''
The Thunderbirds will try for a similar result Saturday at 7:15 p.m. in their regular-season finale against Omaha South. The Packers defeated Millard North by 20 on Friday night.
“That will be another tough game,'' Johnson said. “But if we play like we did tonight or even better, we can get it done.''
Omaha Central (19-4) .............................................. 14 9 27 11—61
At Bellevue West (16-5) .......................................... 16 11 13 25—65
OC: Malik Harris 6, Rashad McCoy 13, Jarek Coles 15, Austin McGaugh 6, Reath Nyoach 2, Tre'Shawn Thurman 19.
BW: Malik Hluchoweckyj 11, CJ Johnson 24, Brad Cluff 6, Brayden Knapp 2, Austin Moore 3, Kael Strawmier 10, Christian Hatterle 9.
Bellevue West girls 63, Om, Central 44
Kate Liveringhouse scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds to lead the second-ranked Thunderbirds.
Bellevue West (21-2) sprinted to a 17-5 lead after one quarter and continued to widen its lead. The Eagles, who have lost four of their past five, fell to 11-9.
Chloe Akin-Otiko scored 17 for the Thunderbirds and Madi Braun chipped in 14.
Elexis Martinez scored 14 to pace the Eagles while Jackie Beaugard had 13 and Tiani White nine.
Omaha Central (11-9) ............................................... 5 16 10 13—44
At Bellevue West (21-2) .......................................... 17 19 10 17—63
OC: Megan Gamble 4, Tiani White 9, Elexis Martinez 14, Jackie Beaugard 13, Jasmin Pearson 2, Johnae Allen 2.
BW: Madi Braun 14, Julie Targy 1, Pimmi Dike 8, Taylea Dotzler 1, Chloe Akin-Otiko 17, Kylie Spurgeon 2, Kate Liveringhouse 20.