It was pure instinct for Malik Hluchoweckyj during overtime in Bellevue West's Class A championship game with Omaha Westside.
With the game tied, teammate Clester Johnson Jr. got a steal and raced for an apparent layup. When the ball slid across the rim, Hluchoweckyj sailed up and tipped it in, putting the Thunderbirds on top for good.
Bellevue West sealed its fourth state championship at the line to claim a 56-50 victory Saturday over the Warriors at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"CJ made a huge play on defense by getting the steal. I saw him driving down the court and Mike Kiger was on his hip," said Hluchoweckyj. "So I kind of had a feeling it was going to be a really tough shot for him. I've had a couple of tip dunks or whatnot on followups, so I just kind of anticipated when it came off.
"It came off at kind of a weird angle so I had to improvise and lay it up backwards. It was just instinct, in the moment."
Johnson helped seal the title with three straight defensive rebounds. He was just 2-for-6 at the line when he was fouled all three times, but it was enough to clinch the win.
"I didn't want to give them second-chance shots. We pretty much had the win secured if we just kept them shooting threes and we rebounded," said Johnson. "I was looking for any board I could get.
"I was able to jump a switch and get the steal. I was going pretty fast and I put it up there kind of hard. But our all-star grabbed it and put it back. "I looked at it and said, 'Wow, what did he just do?' He's a high flier."
Austin Moore put the T-Birds on top in the extra period and then Kevin Metoyer tied it with a driving layup. But the Warriors committed turnovers on their next three trips and the T-Birds finally converted when Johnson got his steal. Christian Hatterle made two free throws before Johnson's trips to the line for the final margin.
"I think so much emotion and energy had been expended by both teams. Neither one of us was at our sharpest at the end," said Bellevue West coach Doug Woodard. "It was basically stumble your way to the finish line."
After Bellevue West took a 41-40 lead, Westside got a foothold when Metoyer drove for a bucket. After Michael Herrmann got a steal and threw the ball down court, Metoyer made two free throws on an intentional foul and then Metoyer drained a 25-footer for a 47-41 lead.
"After that, though, we didn't execute down the stretch when we needed to," said Westside coach Brian Nemecek.
After trading free throws, Bellevue West scored six unanswered points to tie the game at 48-48. Hatterle hit a free throw, goal-tending was called on Johnson's layup and Hluchoweckyj completed a three-point play with 2:07 left.
Bellevue West turned the ball over with 44 seconds left on a five-second call but Westside gave it back on an offensive foul with 24 seconds remaining. Again, the T-Birds were called for a five-second count with 10.9 seconds, but the Warriors didn't get off a shot.
Bellevue West's defense caused Westside problems early in the game and Westside fell behind 26-13 with 2:07 left in the first half. Kael Strawmier led Bellevue West with seven points in the stretch.
The Warriors went on a 21-7 run over the next eight minutes to take a 34-33 lead, their first since early in the first quarter. Kiger scored eight points in the stretch.