Millard North's Hunter Sallis shoots over Papillion-La Vista South's Jared Mattley  on Tuesday.

Millard North couldn’t take Jared Mattley out of his zone. Got slowed down by another zone defense.

But the No. 1 Mustangs avoided a trap-game loss Tuesday night in their third meeting with No. 8 Papillion-La Vista South as they embark on a seriously loaded schedule in the final two weeks before districts.

They held Mattley and the Titans scoreless for the final 2:14, getting a runout basket from Jadin Johnson and two late free throws from Hunter Sallis for a 61-56 home win.

“It was a good win, because I feel like every time we have those type of wins we keep getting better,’’ said Sallis, last seen in the gym talking to a Gonzaga recruiter. “And that really prepares us. We’re going to need to be hard as nails this week, so that really helps.”

Sallis claimed, with support from Millard North coach Tim Cannon, that the Mustangs weren’t looking past the Titans to weekend games at No. 2 Bellevue West on Friday and in Grand Island at the Heartland Hoops Classic on Saturday against defending national champion IMG Academy from Florida.

“We’ve harped so long about play for today and forget the last one and I think they were ready,’’ Cannon said. “I give Papio South huge credit because they’ve been a good team all year.”

In losses of 79-63 and 77-66 to the Mustangs (18-2), Papio South made 10 and 13 3-pointers. In this near-upset, the Titans made 11, with Mattley getting eight for a season-high 32 points.

“He was phenomenal tonight, and I just can’t praise him any more than I do because he just doesn’t get the love that a lot of these guards in the Metro do,’’ Titans coach Joel Hueser said. “How is he not being offered left and right by Division IIs? I just think that they need to get out here and watch Jared go because he’s really good with the ball and he can shoot it and he can pass it and defends well. He’s a lot more athletic guy than people believe he is.

“He just really lives for those moments, and you could tell that he embraces the challenge against the best. We just needed another player to handle a little more of his role, because we’ve got some kids that are capable of that, but that’s what Millard North can do to you, too.”

In the fourth quarter, Mattley and Daniel Brocaille were the only Titan scorers. Brocaille had seven to finish with a next-best nine.

Papio South led by six in the second quarter and by two midway through the third, and gained a tie at 52 on Mattley’s final 3 with 3½ minutes left. After his final two free throws kept the Titans within one, they couldn’t convert on back-to-back Mustang turnovers before Johnson scored.

“I’m not comparing us to an NBA situation, but when you play a team this many times we feel really good about knowing what they do,’’ Hueser said. “We played obviously a lot more zone today than we ever have against them.”

Sallis had team highs of 19 points and seven rebounds. Saint Thomas had 17 and six.

It wasn’t a crisp tuneup for Millard North, as 15 turnovers indicate. The taller team lost the rebounding skirmish 31-27, although Stanford-bound Max Murrell had seven blocks and three steals. The 6-foot-9 senior had nine points, scoring on the only time he went to the block to take an entry pass. He’ll need to be prepared to mix it up more in the paint this weekend.

More on the Millard North weekend challenge will be in Friday’s column. But consider this. Of the nine players on the IMG roster, five are between 6-10 and 7-3. The Mustangs, we believe, have the tallest starting lineup in state history. But they will be the Lilliputians come Saturday night.

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