A year ago, Omaha Central coach Eric Behrens described his star John Tonje as a “catch-and-shoot” offensive player.
Lincoln High got a chance to see the 6-foot-5 senior’s added driving ability up close Saturday night as Tonje’s 35 points paced the Class A No. 7 Eagles to a 77-68 road win over the No. 9 Links at Earl Johnson Gym.
Tonje drained a trio of three-pointers, but it was his ability to go to the basket that put constant pressure on the Lincoln High defense. If Tonje wasn’t finishing at the rim with an acrobatic move or a dunk, he was getting fouled and going to the free-throw line, where he was 16-of-21 to lead Central (10-5), which finished 31-of-40 at the stripe.
“The drive was working for me early in the game so I just stayed with it,” said Tonje, who has not committed to a college for next season. “I wanted to get my team in the double bonus (free-throw situation) as quickly as possible, and I knew I had to keep being aggressive with the ball to do that.”
Behrens said Tonje “can put it in attack mode more this year.”
“John is a very versatile offensive players who can score in multiple ways,” the Central coach added. “That makes him a tough matchup for everyone we play.”
Tonje had 11 points in the opening period, helping Central score the first nine points and hold a 17-12 lead after eight minutes. Central was up 33-25 at half, but Lincoln High (8-5) went on a 16-3 run to start the third quarter and take a five-point advantage.
Keyshawn Jenkins, a 6-1 senior who led the Links with 18 points, put Lincoln High in front for the first time, 37-36, with a three-pointer from the right wing. He also scored on a fast-break layup before Jaxson Barber completed the spurt with a driving layup to make it 41-36 with 3:25 left in the third.
Barber and Jaden Horton each finished with 11 for the Links.
The Links led 51-46 heading into the fourth quarter, only to see Central score the first 10 points of the final period to go in front to stay. Tonje, who had 15 fourth quarter points to help Central outscore the Links 31-17 in the period, netted four in the run on a driving layup and a pair of free throws. Goy Panom knocked down four free throws in the spree and Max Polk capped it with a 15-foot jumper that made it 56-51 with 5:47 left in the game.
Polk, a 6-1 junior, finished with 17 points.
“Lincoln High is a talented team, and they got out in transition in the third quarter with some long rebounds after we missed some threes,” Behrens said. “They put us in a position where we had to show some guts in the fourth quarter to come out of here with a win, and that was probably good for us. We tightened up defensively and did a good job on the defensive boards keeping them to one shot.”
Lincoln High girls 52, Omaha Central 42
Nyayien Koang scored 16 points to lead three Lincoln High players in double-figures as the short-handed Links (7-6) snapped a two-game losing streak. Mia Stewart added 12 points and Harper Case 10 for Lincoln High, which was without two of its top players, Kaysia Woods and Natayah Wilson. Aniah Wayne’s 12 points paced Central (2-12).