In this season of giving, Lawrence High gave plenty to Free State on Tuesday night.
The Lions, who shot a season-low 32.7 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from the line, committed a season-high 19 turnovers and gave the Firebirds room to dominate inside the paint during their 63-55 boys basketball loss in the FSHS gym.
The Lions (3-1) faced reality after suffering their first setback of the season. LHS hadn't played since winning the Blue Valley Shootout on Dec. 9.
"After going 3-0, everyone was saying, 'Hey we're pretty good and things are going our way,'" LHS coach Chris Davis said. "They weren't prepared for this curveball to get thrown in there."
Two LHS offensive lapses and FSHS senior Richie Dunlop, who scored a game-high 22 points, burned the Lions in the nonleague contest against the Firebirds (3-3).
Junior guard Stephen Vinson popped a three-pointer for a 22-22 tie with 5:07 left in the second quarter and LHS never scored again in the first half.
Then with 3:35 left in the third quarter, Vinson converted a steal into a layin for a 34-34 tie. The Firebirds countered with a 13-0 run, shutting out the Lions for 7:01 until D.J. Watkins' three-pointer with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter snapped the drought.
"Obviously we have to credit their defense a lot," Davis said of the Firebirds. "They took us out of our game, which is running and pushing the ball up the floor and they didn't let us do that. Once we had to get the ball in the half-court we didn't execute very well."
LHS, which has been steady all season in the second half, pulled within four points late in the fourth quarter. Watkins made a three-pointer with 2:10 left to close the gap to 54-50.
The Lions, though, missed their next four field-goal attempts, two free throws and committed two turnovers while Free State regained control with a 59-50 advantage.
"I think we had guys who wanted to win so badly that they decided to put everything on their back and try to pull the team forward," Davis said. "That's not the way it works."
With his Lions in position to take the lead in the final two minutes, Davis questioned the squad's shot selection.
"It was poor," Davis said. "A lot of this is inexperience. In the locker room we were talking about we need a senior leader. The problem is we don't have a senior leader that's been here before. Everyone is pretty new to this except for Stephen. Stephen tried real hard and tried too hard in some cases. D.J. had a wonderful rebound from working hard and pulls it out and takes a shot that wasn't very smart. We just have to recognize what a good shot is and what isn't."
Watkins, a 6-2 junior, scored a team-high 21 points, including five three-pointers to lead the Lions. He scored 13 in the final 4:30.
"I thought it was a good comeback, but it was too little too late," Watkins said. "We never should have gotten down as much as we did."
LHS had spent all last week preparing for a Saturday game against Shawnee Mission South. That game never happened, postponed because of inclement weather. Free State hadn't played since placing seventh at the Emporia tournament on Dec. 9. The Firebirds had no games scheduled between then and Tuesday.
"They had a whole week to prepare for us and they did a really good job of figuring what we run and how we do it," Watkins said. "We only had one day to prepare. We kind of got lazy and thought we could coast through it."
Senior forward C.J. Kie scored a season-high 14 points for LHS. Vinson finished with 11. Senior forward Terrelle Johnson scored eight points to account for all of the Lions' bench points.
LHS had averaged 21 points from its bench the first three games.
"We have an awful lot of guys who can come in here and play," Davis said. "It's hard for some of those kids to keep their heads in the game and all of the sudden they get thrown in. That's one of the things we have to work on in practice so they have realistic expectations about what's going to happen."
Davis plans to crack down in practice the next two weeks. Because of the holidays, the Lions won't play again until Jan. 2 against Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst at LHS. Rockhurst, 5-1 heading into Tuesday's game against Raytown South, is ranked No. 2 in the Kansas City metro area behind Leavenworth.
"Practice needs to be more disciplined," Davis said. "We were very disciplined going into the Blue Valley tournament. Coming out of it we had such success that in practice we eased off a little bit and worked on some offensive things. I need to be more disciplined with them in practice."
The Lions, 2-4 all time against Free State, will play host to the Firebirds on Feb. 3 in a league contest.