Free State High boys basketball coach Jack Schreiner would've had a hard time convincing Dain Dillingham to sit out a sixth straight game Saturday night at FSHS.
Defending Class 6A state champion Wichita Southeast was in town, so if Dillingham's undisclosed illness didn't kill him, sitting this game out probably would have.
It might have killed the Firebirds, too.
They trailed 10-2 before Dillingham checked into the game. With its senior captain back on the court, Free State relaxed, played nearly flawless basketball and toppled the Southeast, 70-66.
"He makes me look like a pretty good coach," Schreiner said of Dillingham. "He's a stud. It's as simple as that."
Dillingham scored 22 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, had two steals and a huge blocked shot in the victory.
"But it wasn't all Dain," Schreiner was quick to point out. "Matt Green, Tyler Blankenship, Brady Morningstar, Adam Bellinder, Cole Douglas ... this was a total team victory. I'm as proud of these kids as I can possibly be."
Dillingham checked into the game with 4:52 left in the first quarter and the Firebirds (12-6) trailing by eight. Free State looked vastly different with him back in the lineup. Suddenly the pressure was off.
Dillingham played most of the first half, scored 16 points and pulled FSHS within 26-25. Douglas nailed two free throws, and Morningstar scored to give Free State a 29-27 lead late in the second quarter. The Firebirds never trailed again.
"In the second half, I was a little bit tired and needed some extra time on the bench," Dillingham said. "But these other guys really stepped up big, came into their roles and got the job done."
Morningstar sank all five of his shots and scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the third quarter. Douglas grabbed some big rebounds. Green drilled a three-pointer. Bellinder swiped two steals.
The Firebirds took a 59-49 lead into the fourth quarter, fought off a late rally by Southeast (12-6) and survived.
Free State will close out the regular season with a trip to Shawnee Mission East on Tuesday and a Senior Night contest Friday at home against Olathe North.
"That's just great momentum going into next week," Dillingham said. "We've got two more games to close out the regular season, and if we can get those two Ws in the book, I think we'll have a great chance going into sub-state to do some great things."