POCATELLO – Eli Williams’ dad always tries to pepper his son with inspirational material. Uplifting quotes and videos always trickle to Williams as timely hype material before games. On Thursday, it was a video from “Rocky Balboa” when the former champ says to his son:
“But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
Rocky’s words were apropos ahead of Century’s 58-49 win over cross-town rival Pocatello on Thursday. The Diamondbacks controlled the pace and physicality and took a 10-point lead into halftime. A impassioned Poky squad emerged from the locker room and the Indians drilled a quartet of 3-pointers, including a 25-foot dagger from freshman Julian Bowie that gave Poky a lead.
“I was glad we made our run. I thought they played hard to get back into it, but we just couldn’t sustain that firepower from being down 10.” Pocatello coach Joe Green said. “I thought we got outplayed. I don’t think that’s happened a ton with us, but tonight they outworked us.”
With seconds ticking away in the third period, Century had tied things up with some free throws and had the ball for a final possession. Isaac Panttaja caught a pass on the wing and tossed a dribble behind his back but charged into a clogged lane. With time winding down, he threw the ball back out to Williams. As the buzzer sounded, Williams’ rainbow shot ripped through the nylon.
Century’s lead never shrunk from there.
When the shot fell, Williams lowered his followed-through right arm and smacked the hardwood of the Diamondbacks' court. The senior let out a primal scream and marched towards the Century sideline with an energetic swagger, bodying Century coach Ryan Frost and a few teammates.
Suddenly, Century’s smallest player became its focal point.
“I just have a chip on my shoulder because everyone thinks I’m not good because I’m small,” said the 5-foot-7 Williams. “I’ve got to prove them wrong.”
Added Frost: “Eli’s fiery, and it’s good for us. It gets us going sometimes and when he’s hitting like that, he sure makes us dangerous.”
Indeed. On Thursday, Williams shot 60% (6 of 10) from the field and hit four of his half-dozen attempts from beyond the arc. In total, he recorded a game-high 20 points, highlighted by a second-quarter and-1 where he drove the lane, got hit and managed to fling up a shot that kissed the top of the glass and dropped.
That shot sent Williams to the ground and sent the Diamondbacks’ junior varsity squad into a frenzy. The dozen-or-so underclassmen never got louder than after Williams’ miracle shot. They jumped off the bench as if the plastic was burning and almost rushed the court in hysteria.
Frost talks about those types of situations in practices. Not the whole J.V. craziness, but the point in a game when it seems a guy can't miss. When they’re on fire. When they’re confident.
“I think basketball is all about confidence,” Frost said. “So if we get a guy hitting a 3 or getting a couple buckets in a row, we talk about trying to get that guy a look or maybe make his guy help so he can get another shot.”
It’s the heat check. Similar to gambling, one feels the need to test their serendipitous streak. But, as Frost noted, “at the casino it doesn’t work, but on the basketball court I think it does.”
Whatever luck Century has made for itself, the Diamondbacks plan on riding it as long as possible. Three conference games still remain (two against Preston and a contest at Poky) but Century is the only 4A District 5 team that controls its own destiny for the top seed and a bye in the conference tournament.
“It’s so crucial to have that bye because all three teams are good,” Frost said. “It would be so nice to be first and say, ‘Hey Poky, Preston, you guys get to play first and we get to sit back and watch you beat each other up.' Then we could play two days later rested. And we’d have home-court advantage.
“We’ll take any advantage we can get.”
Century (10-3, 1-0 4A District 5) travels to Blackfoot on Saturday.
Pocatello (11-3, 1-14A District 5) plays at Thunder Ridge on Saturday.
CENTURY 58, POCATELLO 49
Pocatello 9 12 17 11 – 49
Century 15 16 10 17 – 58
Pocatello – Bowie 12, Payne 11, Christensen 10, Vaughan 6, Williams 5, Killian 3.
Century – Williams 20, Holt 13, B. Fleischmann 10, I. Panttaja 6, Tolman 4. Blackhawk 3, T. Fleischmann 2.