Top 10 No. 1 Bellevue West keeps winning, even without star guard Chucky Hepburn

Bellevue West’s Nico Felici tries to drive past Millard North’s Jake Rueschhoff. Felici scored 10 points, one of three T-birds in double figures.

Bellevue West was down a pair of starters Tuesday, including star guard Chucky Hepburn, but that didn’t stop the state’s top-ranked team from running its winning streak to nine with a 62-58 Metro Conference boys basketball victory over Millard North.

Thunderbirds coach Doug Woodard said Hepburn and junior forward Louis Fidler have been sidelined by a flu virus and haven’t been able to practice since Friday’s victory over Omaha Creighton Prep to win the Metro Holiday tournament.

Woodard also knew the Mustangs weren’t going to feel sorry for the 12-1 T-birds because two key players were unavailable for action.

“I was really proud of the kids, and a lot of them stepped up ... knowing we were down two starters,” Woodard said. “We have some depth, but early on it looked like it was going to be a long night.”

That’s because the host Mustangs galloped to a 10-0 lead in the first three minutes. Five Mustangs — Mason Jung, Max Murrell, Jake Rueschhoff, Jasen Green and Hunter Sallis — contributed to the cause before Woodard called a timeout.

Layups by John Shanklin and Jacob Coldanghise  broke the drought, starting a rally that got West within 17-14 by the end of the first quarter.

The T-birds tied the game twice before taking their first lead at 28-27 on a 3-point basket by David Nuor, who led all players with 18 points. A layup by Nate Sullivan and a free throw by Trey Hepburn put West ahead 35-32 before layups by Jung and Sallis put Millard North ahead 36-35 at halftime.

“They started going to the basket pretty well and making good passes to guys by the basket,” Mustangs coach Tim Cannon said. “They increased their defensive pressure, and that made it hard to get things started.”

Deftly mixing their inside and outside game early in the third quarter helped the T-birds build a 47-40 lead. Just as Millard North had to start the first quarter, West relied on a team approach to build that lead.

Four players chipped in points in the 12-4 run, including four points by Nuor on a pair of layups. But in the final 3:30 of the quarter, West got just two free throws from Trey Hepburn while Millard North battled back to get within 49-48 heading into the final eight minutes.

While West never was able to completely shake the pesky Mustangs — the T-birds got the lead back to five points three times — Woodard’s charges never trailed in the fourth quarter. Nico Felici led the way by scoring five of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

“We knew those two guys they were missing are good players,” Cannon said. “But they’re still the No. 1 team in the state for a reason. They still have a lot of good players on that team.”

Bellevue West (12-1)...........14 21 14 13—62

At Millard North (6-5)...........17 19 12 10—58

BW: David Nuor 7-14 2-5 18, Owen Woodard 0-0 0-0 0, Trey Hepburn 1-1 3-4 5, Nico Felici 3-10 2-2 10, John Shanklin 4-4 3-3 11, Jacob Coldanghise 3-4 0-0 8, Nate Sullivan 1-2 0-0 2, Deng Jal 3-4 2-4 8. Totals 22-39 12-18 62.

MN: Hunter Sallis 7-15 0-1 14, Jake Rueschhoff 6-10 0-0 15, Mason Jung 4-8 0-0 8, Max Murrell 1-3 4-4 6, Jasen Green 4-8 0-0 8, Bret Porter 2-4 0-0 4, Saint Thomas 0-2 0-0 0, Rene Santiago 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 25-51 4-8 58.

3-point goals: BW 6-13 (Nuor 2-4, Felici 2-6, Coldanghise 2-2, Sullivan 0-1), MN 4-15 (Sallis 0-2, Rueschhoff 3-7, Jung 0-2, Green 0-1, Thomas 0-2, Santiago 1-1). Total fouls: BW 12, MN 17. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None. Turnovers: BW 16, MN 13. Rebounds: BW 26 (Woodard 6), MN 24 (Murrell 10). Field goal percentage: BW .564, MN .490. Free throw percentage: BW .667, MN .500. A-1,200 (est.)

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