Bryon Ellis is going to get his points more often than not, but his first priority is making sure you don’t get yours.
If you’re the top jump-shooter on a team that has to face the Centre College men, the chances are very good that you’re going to be hounded all night long by Ellis, and the chances are pretty good that he’s going to keep you from having the kind of game that you hoped for.
The senior guard did it again Friday night, holding Birmingham-Southern’s leading scorer to 12 fewer points than he had the first time they crossed paths this season to help the Colonels get a crucial 72-62 victory at Alumni Gymnasium.
Defensive efforts such as that will be Ellis’ legacy for as long as he is remembered at Centre, and that’s fine by him.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” Ellis said. “If I was asked my role on the team, I would definitely say that above anything. I definitely take pride in usually getting the other team’s best shooter, and sometimes their best scorer as well.”
Ellis got the job done Friday in a must-win game for Centre (16-4, 9-2 Southern Athletic Association) in its quest to win the SAA regular-season championship and host the conference tournament. Birmingham-Southern guard Larry Thomas had gone 5 for 7 from 3-point range and torched the Colonels for 29 points in the Panthers’ 73-69 on Jan. 6, but he scored 17 points — right at his average — and was 0 for 2 from long range in the rematch at Alumni Gymnasium against Ellis, who was on the floor for all but 4 minutes.
“Thirty-six minutes guarding their best playing player, you can’t say enough about that,” Centre coach Greg Mason said.
Mason has plenty of good things to say about Ellis, who has started all but three games since coming to Centre from Russell County and who will be among four seniors playing their final home game today when the Colonels host Millsaps.
“He’s my security blanket,” Mason said. “Allen Feldhaus (Ellis’ coach at Russell) would say the same thing. His basketball IQ is off the charts, especially defensively. He sees things lots of times before we see them, and when he hits shots like he did tonight, I’m just very pleased for him.”
Ellis has been a leader for the Colonels for some time, but never more so than this season, when he has been the only senior starter and one of two seniors in the playing rotation for a young Centre team. As a result, he is almost always on the floor. He averaged better than 28 minutes per game in each of his first three seasons, but this year his average is up to 32.6 minutes.
“When I take him out, it’s just to get him a little bit of rest,” Mason said. “With him being a senior, those guys rely on him quite a bit, so when he’s out it does bother us.”
Mason said Ellis leads by example.
“He talks enough, but nobody can question his work ethic or question his commitment to the team. When one of your best players works as hard as he does, it sets the tone,” Mason said.
Ellis is working even when he isn’t playing. During his few minutes on the bench Friday, he was still very much into the game, encouraging his teammates but also informing them when he saw things he thought they needed to know.
“I try to be a leader, even when I’m not on the court, sort of helping the guys on the court, trying to be a leader and getting everybody where they need to be,” he said. “I would say when I came in my first few years I was definitely more of an action kind of guy, not talking near as much, but I’m definitely talking more now.”
He’s scoring more, too. His average is in double figures for the first time this season — 10.7 points per game — and he leads Centre in 3-point goals (47) and attempts (130). He had 1,468 points in high school, and he has 841 at Centre.
He hit four of five 3-point shots and scored 18 points Friday to help the Colonels outlast Birmingham-Southern (15-6, 8-3) between two of the three teams tied for first place in the SAA.
“We knew we had to have it,” Ellis said. “Each of our remaining three games are must-win games if we want to get that No. 1 seed and host the conference tournament, which is sort of our ultimate goal right now, so it was definitely a big game.”
Today’s game against Millsaps (4-18, 2-9) will also be big because it is the final home game for Ellis and fellow seniors Matt Griggs, Calvin Cahall and Spencer Wright — unless Centre wins the right to host the SAA tournament.
Ellis, an economics and international studies major with a 3.73 grade-point average, was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-District team Friday and is one of 42 Division III players in the running for Academic All-America honors in a vote later this month.
He is considering a future either in a master’s degree programs in diplomacy or international affairs or with a company that does business abroad, and he said he has enjoyed everything about a collegiate career that he said has exceeded his expectations, especially the friends he has made along the way.
“Those guys out there, they’re my brothers, the guys on the team now and the guys that have gone on and graduate before (over) the past three years. There’s a lot of great memories and friendships I’ve been lucky to have,” he said. “The wins have been amazing, but the friendships that I’ve forged with the guys on the team, that’s what I’ll have for the rest of my life, along with the great memories.”
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Centre’s defense held Birmingham-Southern to 31 percent shooting from the field, and the Panthers were just 4 for 26 from 3-point range.
“They’re a phenomenal shooting team, and when they hit them, they’re devastating. That was a really good defensive effort by our team,” Mason said.
Mason said the Colonels’ most valuable player might well have been guard Donovan Whiteside, who didn’t start for the first time this season but came off the bench to contribute eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“Donovan was so unselfish, handled it so well, and I’m really pleased to see him play so well,” Mason said.
Mason said the move was made in an attempt to find more minutes for forward Blake Scinta, who led all scorers with 20 points.
The Colonels took the lead early in the second half but couldn’t pull away. Consecutive layups by Tyler Wesley gave them a 57-52 lead with 5:38 to play, and they hit 13 of 16 free throws in the final 3:43 to hold off the Panthers.
CENTRE 72, BIRMINGHAM-SOUTHERN 62
Zac Richards 5-7 4-4 14, Colin Henry 0-3 2-2 2, Blaise White 0-4 2-3 2, Kevin Kegarise 3-14 0-0 9, Larry Thomas 6-14 5-5 17, Kelly Assinesi 0-0 2-2 2, Ross Welch 1-2 0-0 2, Matt Player 0-0 0-0 0, Jason Holland 0-4 1-2 1, Schylar Freeman 1-1 0-0 2, Griffin Schamp 0-4 3-4 3, Alex Avery 3-7 0-0 7, Brendan Marschner 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 19-61 20-24 62.
Blake Scinta 5-11 8-9 20, Josh Karsner 1-6 0-0 2, Tyler Wesley 5-8 2-3 12, Bryon Ellis 5-8 4-04 18, Chris Taylor 2-6 0-0 4, Matt Griggs 1-4 2-4 4, Collin Lopez 0-2 1-2 1, Donovan Whiteside 3-5 1-1 8, Taylor Newsome 0-0 0-0 0, Holden Hertzel 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 23-52 19-25 72.
Halftime—Birmingham-Southern 29-27. 3-Point Goals—Birmingham-Southern 4-26 (White 0-3, Kegarise 3-13, Thomas 0-2, Welch 0-1, Holland 0-2, Schamp 0-1, Avery 1-3), Centre 7-15 (Scinta 2-3, Karsner 0-3, Wesley 0-1, Ellis 4-5, Griggs 0-1, Lopez 0-1, Whiteside 1-1). Fouled Out—Henry. Rebounds—Birmingham-Southern 35 (Thomas 11), Centre 40 (Wesley 8). Assists—Birmingham-Southern 6 (White 2), Centre 10 (Whiteside 4). Total Fouls—Birmingham-Southern 23, Centre 17. A—572.