Elijah Bevis tossed a short layup toward the basket with a smile and a bouncing step. He didn’t care if the ball went in because the half-hearted shot was long after the final buzzer of Nixyaawii’s basketball game with Echo on Saturday night at the Pendleton Convention Center. That shot was for fun as the other players filed off the court — and without the pressure that surrounded his free throws moments earlier.
With Nixyaawii up 49-48, Bevis made a pair of free throws to put the game away with two seconds left on the clock and guarantee the Golden Eagles (9-11, 5-5 Big Sky Conference) a 51-48 victory in the final game of the Bounc’n Cancer Classic.
“Concentrated,” said Bevis to describe his mindset heading to the free throw line. “I just hoped I could make that free throw.”
The sound of the buzzer set off celebration for those left in attendance in Pendleton, a largely pro-Nixyaawii crowd. The victory came in upset fashion over Echo (14-5, 6-3 BSC) a team that had been at the top of the Big Sky Conference's East section until Saturday night.
For each moment of exuberance there is an equal part of crushing disappointment and the Cougars were on that end of the spectrum. Echo seems to play like the champions they envision themselves against the top tier squads, Echo senior Jeramy Cisneros said. That intensity isn’t always present against the teams the Cougars are heavily favored against.
“It’s hard to say ... there’s just something about when we play against the teams that aren’t up and with us (in the standings),” Cisneros said. “We feel we should just man-handle them but, I don’t know, it doesn’t happen.”
Echo played flat defense through most of the first half, Cisneros said, leading to a “play defense with your feet, not your hands” speech at halftime by coach Ben Campbell. It worked for the most part as the Cougars battled back from a deficit at halftime to take a lead as late in the game as the 1:27 mark of the fourth. They wouldn’t score again, though.
The tight game is another learning experience for a young Golden Eagles squad, Nixyaawii head coach Aaron Noisey said. The atmosphere in the convention center fed their adrenaline in make-or-break type of game for the team’s season.
“Echo is just a good team and we were very nervous about their speed,” Noisey said. “We hadn’t played that quick the whole season.”
Josh Barkley finished with 20 points while running the guard position for Nixyaawii. Treve Moffit had a huge game for Echo with 16 points and 13 rebounds, both team highs.