Talk to anyone associated with the Elko basketball program and chances are strong you'll hear a familiar refrain: "Defense and rebounding wins games."
Clutch shooting doesn't hurt, either.
The Indians excelled in all three areas Saturday afternoon at Wooster to win the Division I-A North championship with a 58-54 victory over Ruby Mountain League rival Lowry. The win was the 11th straight for Elko (24-3) and snapped a six-game winning streak for the Buckaroos (21-6). Both teams advance to this week's state tournament in Las Vegas.
"They were really determined," Elko coach Chris Klekas said of his team. "We pride ourselves on defense and rebounding. If you defend and you rebound, you have a chance to win championships."
Elko controlled much of the first half, using its hard-nosed defensive approach to limit Lowry to six points in the opening quarter and take a 24-16 lead into halftime. But the Buckaroos stormed back in the third quarter, putting up 20 points to trail by four, 40-36, heading into the fourth.
Lowry likely would have grabbed the lead in the third had Elko not hit a number of key shots, including three 3-pointers from sophomore Brandon Jenkins.
"Everyone was ready for this moment," said Jenkins, who finished with 18 points. "This was the biggest game of our season so far and we stepped up to the plate."
Elko was able to maintain its advantage in a back-and-forth fourth quarter, with Lowry closing to within a single point twice. The Buckaroos had an open look at the basket to tie the game at 57 with 7 seconds left, but Calvin Connors' 3-pointer from the corner was just off. Elko's rebound and one made free throw essentially sealed the title for the Indians.
"That's the best we've played them all year (three games)," Lowry coach Chad Peters said. "I couldn't be more proud, even if we'd won that game."
Nathan Klekas joined Jenkins at 18 points for Elko, which also got 11 from Brian Pearson. Lowry's Josh Watterson had a game-high 25 points, including the Buckaroos' first nine points of the fourth quarter.