Overland Park — Free State High's boys basketball players learned a valuable lesson Tuesday in a loss to top-ranked Olathe South: They can come back.
"If we can rally against Olathe South we can come back against anybody, because they're the best around," Free State's Tyler Blankenship said.
Friday, the Firebirds utilized that gusto against Shawnee Mission North. Free State fell behind, 10-0, but put together a strong second quarter and second half to secure a 69-62 victory.
"I guess we did gain a little something in that game," said Free State coach Jack Schreiner after the Firebirds won without senior standout Dain Dillingham, who missed the game because of illness. "This time, though, when we came back, we didn't allow them to go on another spurt."
Free State (8-4 overall, 4-1 Sunflower League) impressed Schreiner by stepping up without Dillingham, who averages 18 points and 10 rebounds per game.
"We just told each person to score a couple more baskets than they normally would, and grab a few more rebounds to make up for Dain's absence," Schreiner said.
Because of SM North's fast start, Free State trailed, 22-12, after the first quarter, but the Firebirds flipped things around with a 23-11 second frame.
Free State's forceful zone defense stopped SM North's Terrell Dyer from driving the lane. Dyer led all scorers with 22, but the zone slowed the Indians' standout.
A three-pointer by Free State's Adam Bellinder with 2:35 to play in the third gave the Firebirds a 50-39 advantage, but the Indians rallied to cut that deficit to one possession with 1:38 to go.
Back-to-back baskets from Cole Douglas in the final minutes helped FSHS survive.
Dillingham's illness will keep him out of today's showdown against Lawrence High, and Blankenship said the Firebirds would have to step up again.
"We're definitely going to have to keep this up, because this time it's at their house and I know they'll be pumped up to play," he said.
Blankenship scored a team-high 19 points, Brady Morningstar tallied 16 and Douglas added 10 for the Firebirds.
SM North girls 44, Free State 24
Free State struggled in the first half, scoring only 10 points. Somehow, the Firebirds still had a shot, because the Indians tallied only 16.
That all changed quickly in the second half when SM North went on a 9-2 run.
SM North's Megan Turpin and Ashlyn Fitzpatrick nearly outscored the Firebirds by themselves, combining for 23 points.
Banaka Okwuone led Free State (4-8, 1-4) with eight points.
Firebird coach Bryan Duncan had few words to describe his team's disappointing showing.
"We did not have any energy tonight," he said. "I really don't know what to say. This was a team we thought we matched up pretty well with, and then we didn't play like that at all."