LINCOLN — Inside Pinnacle Bank Arena, now and then a feather or a piece of confetti will flutter down courtside.
But there’s no fear of anvils dropping. Unlike last year.
A far different mood Tuesday — festive and energetic — imbued the first day of the boys state basketball tournament compared to last year, when it was the last major event held in the state at the start of the pandemic shutdown and harkened the end of high school sports in the school year.
“You see all the people, see all the students, it’s just awesome,” Millard North coach Tim Cannon said Tuesday. “From last year it was great to play, it was great to have our fans, but to see close to normality is totally awesome.”
For Jay Bellar, the NSAA’s executive director, and tournament director Jon Dolliver from the NSAA, the stress is nothing like when the anvil figuratively was hanging from the arena rafters. No glancing at cellphones worrying about what might be dictated to the tournament next.
“You know, it’s a different feeling. Last year it was maybe a defeated feeling because of what was happening to us,” Dolliver said. “This year there’s more excitement. The tide has turned a little bit, and I’m excited for this year.”
There’s still stress in a different form on the former college player and high school coach. He wants the tournament to run smoothly.
“It’s such an important event for me and to our state,” Dolliver said.
Last week’s girls tournament was a better draw than Bellar said the NSAA was expecting.
“We’ve been running about at most of our events 60% to 70% of our average daily attendance for the last five years. Girls basketball was about 85%. We had almost 45,000 people show up. And so it was great,” he said.
It’s never too early to consider what next year’s tournament could look like.
Five days again? Probably not. A return to three days? Always an option. Four days, as long advocated in this space?
Bellar said the NSAA wants input from schools and will conduct a survey after the tournament. An extended tournament for some schools adds to their travel expenses and time out of school.
“We like the three-day schedule that we had,” he said. “But, as you know, in some of those games at the high schools it’s packed or overpacked, and we’ve heard a lot of people talk, and I’m one of those guys too, they like the two-game session. So if we can get that two-game session back, I like that for the fans that want to observe the games.”
A four-day format with games exclusively at PBA and the Devaney Center, no high school gyms, is in the discussion, too. Dolliver said retaining a five-day format depends on facility availability — “the Huskers still do play here” — and it worked out this year the state tournament could be accommodated at PBA.
“I’ve had a lot of compliments from the smaller schools to get to play their semifinal games here and just appreciative that they got to be Pinnacle Bank Arena when they may not be here unless they played on Saturday,” Dolliver said. “There’s some ideas out there.
“Again, I’m excited and really am glad to be here and to be doing this, and you can just feel the energy in the building as last year there wasn’t that energy. I’m excited to have the student bodies here.”
Elkhorn’s Dane Petersen, a 6-foot-4 junior averaging five points, made his last eight shots – for 18 points to go with seven rebounds – to be the difference-maker in the Antlers’ 63-48 Class B win over Platteview.
Millard West 47, Lincoln Pius X 45: NU recruited football walkon Evan Meyersick covered 40 feet of court in 2.8 seconds, leaving him plenty of time for the winning layup.
Worst free-throw shooing
Part of the reason Millard West-Pius X was low-scoring and a game won on a last shot was how the teams flailed at the foul line in the fourth quarter. West was 2 of 7, Pius X 3 of 10 – a combined 29.4%.
Honor of the day
Millard North’s Hunter Sallis, who had 24 points against Millard South, made the Naismith High School All-America second team that was released Tuesday. Creighton-bound TyTy Washington from Compass Prep in Chandler, Arizona, was one of 15 honorable mentions.
They said it
“I flipped over my desk,”
— Meyersick, on how he celebrated Millard West’s district-final win while confined to home with COVID-19.
2021 Nebraska boy state basketball Tuesday
Photos: 2021 Nebraska boys state basketball Tuesday