The Edgeley/Kulm/Montpelier Rebels were playing defense so well Tuesday night in Ellendale, they chose to defend two potential game-winning shots by the Cardinals.
But all joking aside, a late turnover ended up not costing No. 6 EKM boys basketball a seventh-straight victory. The Rebels improved to 13-1, holding on for a 40-36 win over No. 7 Ellendale.
"Every time we face Ellendale -- they defend really well, we defend well -- it's always just kind of a slugfest, so to speak," said EKM coach Kevin Strobel, whose Rebels were on the wrong side of a four-point loss to Ellendale last month in the championship game of the Stutsman County tournament. "There's no doubt that was a big win, but we've still got some more work to do here."
The Cardinals' Levi Reis was unable to convert a 3-point attempt in the final 20 seconds that would've given Ellendale a one-point lead, but the home team would get a second crack. With a couple of fouls to give and the Rebels leading 38-36, Ellendale was forced to foul and a long EKM inbounds pass intended for Alex Huber down the length of the court was mishandled and sailed out of bounds last touched by the Rebels with 12 seconds remaining.
Ellendale crossed halfcourt with the basketball and called timeout to draw up another play with 9 seconds on the clock.
"That was one of the reads, but it was one of those reads that it's gotta be 100% sure and we probably should've just (called) a timeout and got organized again and set something else up," Strobel said of the late turnover. "It was a little interesting."
But Strobel's Rebels had been playing rock-solid defensively all night and there'd be no letup. EKM didn't allow Ellendale's 6-foot-7 Scott Wagner a chance to touch the basketball, and another 3-point attempt -- this one fired up by Wyatt Henningsen -- also missed the mark.
A pair of Dalton Madcke bonus shots in the final two seconds for EKM produced the final score. With 40 points on the scoreboard, the Rebels converted a big 11 of 14 at the foul line.
"I felt there were times we could've gotten it into Scotty, and he does a nice job of kicking the ball back out and when we get kick-outs from Scotty they're usually good 3s," said Ellendale coach Brian Vance. "Tonight we didn't have that."
Wagner overcame three first-half fouls and poured in nine of his team-high 13 points in the final quarter, helping Ellendale erase a nine-point, 31-22, deficit at the end of three.
Ellendale led by a single point twice in the final frame after trailing by as many as 10 in the game, and arguably the biggest bucket of the night was tossed in by EKM's Adam Nitschke.
Nitschke drove to the bucket, scored and was fouled with 42 seconds to play. Nitschke buried the free throw to give EKM its 38-36 advantage in the final minute.
The Rebels led 20-14 at the half after the two ranked teams combined for just 10 first-half field goals.
"I thought both teams played good defense. They beat us and they scored 40 points," Vance said. "I thought we improved a lot -- our mental toughness and things like that -- but we can't have 14 points in the first half and think we're gonna finish it in the fourth quarter."
Strobel was happy with senior forward Chayse Entzi's work defending the all-state Wagner, especially late when Ellendale was looking for the win.
"We just kinda buckled up and challenged Chayse to go ahead and play a little stronger, try to keep (Wagner) off the post a little bit and then probably try to front a little more top side and come with a little harder backside help," Strobel said. "I thought Chayse did a real nice job of covering everything up and then our perimeter defense -- our ball pressure -- I thought was really good there those last two stops."
Huber led the Rebels scoring 14, while Reis and EKM's Paxton Mathern each finished with 10 points.
Ellendale fell to 12-2, the team's first in-state loss to this point. The Cards suffered an 11-point loss to Mobridge-Pollock, South Dakota, in December.
The Rebels travel to Gwinner on Friday to play Sargent County (2-11). They'll wrap up District 5 play hosting LaMoure/Litchville-Marion on Feb. 9 and at Carrington on Feb. 11.
"We've got two district games left, so we'll look forward to that," Strobel said. "We told the guys to enjoy this one tonight but we've got work to do yet."
Ellendale hosts Oakes (10-3) on Friday in the 75th annual Cowbell Game. Oakes defeated LMM 64-46 Tuesday night.
"You gotta give (EKM) a lot of credit," Vance said. "They came well-prepared. Hats off to them and hopefully we get to see them in districts and regionals."
(6) Edgeley/Kulm/Montpelier 40, (7) Ellendale 36
EKM 6 14 11 9 -- 40
ELL 7 7 8 14 -- 36
EKM -- Alex Huber 14, Paxton Mathern 10, Dalton Madcke 9, Adam Nitschke 7. Totals: 14-49 FG, 1-19 3-pointers (Madcke), 11-14 FT, 34 Rebounds, 8 Steals, 15 Turnovers, 15 fouls.
ELL -- Scott Wagner 13, Levi Reis 10, Eric Blondo 5, Riley Thorpe 3, Chance Durheim 3, Wyatt Henningsen 2. Totals: 12-40 FG, 4-11 3-pointers (Reis 2, Thorpe Durheim), 8/13 FT, 31 rebounds, 8 Steals, 15 turnovers, 17 fouls.
Records: Ellendale 12-2, 4-1 District 5. Edgeley/KM 13-1, 4-0.