Topeka Not many coaches have the brass to set up a game-altering shot for a nonstarting sophomore.
Then again, Free State High's boys basketball team's 69-65 victory against Topeka High in the Topeka Invitational on Saturday was a little unusual.
The Firebirds were stellar in the first half, taking a 35-23 lead on 16 of 25 shooting and dishing 12 assists. Most of that was without 6-foot-9 senior Keith Wooden, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, who played sparingly because of a deep bruise on his left knee.
But the Trojans clawed their way back by limiting Free State's shot attempts and hitting clutch three-pointers.
With the game tied at 61-61 with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, FSHS coach Jack Schreiner called timeout to set up a play for sophomore Brady Morningstar.
"Am I a little goofy, or what?" Schreiner joked. "But the crazy thing is, Brady wanted it. He's been in so many big games by now that it's not a big deal."
The Firebirds ran two picks to set up Morningstar along the right wing and he swished the three-pointer, giving FSHS a 64-61 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The win gave the Firebirds (8-4) third place, their best ever finish in the tournament.
At the start, it looked to be a rout. Topeka (6-4) played a zone for much of the first half, which the Firebirds picked apart with crisp passing and flashes underneath the basket. Junior Cole Douglas had eight assists in the first half -- most of them to senior Bijai Jones -- as FSHS hit nearly every open look it got.
Jones, who led all scorers with 22 points, scored 16 in the first half, connecting on eight of nine shots.
But it wouldn't last.
"Cole just shredded that thing," Schreiner said. "But in the third, we were just tentative and didn't attack it as well as we did in the first half."
The Trojans opened with a 6-0 run, then pulled to within six, 48-42 with 1:17 left in the third quarter with back-to-back threes.
Free State's defensive intensity lapsed and its offense wasn't nearly as aggressive against the Topeka zone.
"I guess everybody fell asleep," Jones said. "We came out and didn't want to win the game, we just wanted to run the clock out."
FSHS junior Dain Dillingham, who scored 18 points for the second straight game, started to penetrate more, which forced the Trojans to bring in their zone.
That freed up Morningstar, who scored 10 of his season-high 14 points in the second half. He was a much-needed third scoring option, especially without Wooden.
"On the bus ride over, we talked about how everybody would have to step up," Jones said. "We needed to move the ball around and that way everybody would score 10 and we'd win."
Topeka made it tough on the Firebirds though, taking a 60-59 lead, with 3:01 remaining.
Morningstar and Dillingham iced the win by hitting five free throws in the final 27 seconds.
FSHS, which doesn't play again until Feb. 3 against Shawnee Mission West, now has 10 days to get Wooden healthy and revel in its newfound confidence .
"I feel really good about it," Schreiner said. "We just played two really good teams and nearly won both, and played basically without Keith. Hopefully we can do the same when he gets back, and it'll just make us better."