He might be relatively new to the whole Lawrence High-Free State rivalry, but Firebirds center Josh May figures to play a potentially sizable role in it tonight.
A 6-foot-8 senior who transferred into the district this year, May is coming off one of his best offensive performances of the season on Tuesday, when he scored 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting in a Free State victory over Shawnee Mission North, and appears to be a match-up nightmare for the Lions, who don’t feature a player taller than 6-foot-4.
“I don’t know if he’s going to dominate, but he certainly needs to be a big piece of the puzzle for us,” said Firebirds coach Chuck Law, whose team will take on Lawrence High at 7 tonight at LHS. “We haven’t always used him this season. We haven’t had a big guy in a while, and I don’t know if we know how to use him a lot of the time.
“But we need to get him some touches tomorrow night.”
How many touches May gets — and, more to the point, what he does with them — could factor greatly into whether the Firebirds, 8-11 overall and 4-6 in the Sunflower League this season, can win their second straight over the Lions after dropping the previous three to their chief rival.
May has been inconsistent at times this winter — his game-winning free throw against Olathe Northwest two weeks ago was his only point of the game — but his size alone has the potential to make him an impact player on any given night, particularly against an LHS team that doesn’t feature a great deal of size.
“We really don’t have anybody that matches up with Josh,” said Lawrence High coach Mike Lewis, whose team enters the game with a 4-15 record and having lost seven of its last eight. “A 6-8 lefty who shows up this year — I wish somebody (like that) would have showed up on our side of town. So that’s one of those tough matchups for us, and I think he’s just gotten more and more confident as the year’s gone on.”
May performed ably in the teams’ last meeting, finishing with eight points and eight rebounds, but the difference in that game proved to be the Firebirds’ full-court press, which helped Free State overcome a significant first-half deficit to walk away with a 50-45 home victory.
Lawrence High senior Steven Melton said he felt the Lions had managed to shore up their press-break issues over the course of the season — though the task of neutralizing the Firebirds’ big man figures to be an ongoing dilemma.
“We’re not a very big team, so our zone has been a good look against some bigger teams this year,” Melton said Thursday.
The first meeting between the teams this season didn’t count in the Sunflower League, meanwhile, but tonight’s will, meaning the outcome could theoretically affect seeding heading into next week’s Class 6A sub-state tournament.
The good news for the teams’ coaches is that, in terms of keeping players motivated, their jobs have been relatively easy this week.
“Oh, they’ll be focused at practice the next couple of days,” Law said earlier this week. “Both of these teams will be jacked up.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR...
Matchup of note
Lawrence High’s Marcus Ray vs. Free State’s Eric Watson. Two players that can penetrate and put points up in a hurry. Watson led the Firebirds in scoring in the teams’ last meeting, but Ray, a senior, will be playing his final game at LHS tonight.
The sons of two prominent NBA figures will be competing on opposite sides tonight. Lawrence High’s K.J. Pritchard is the son of Portland Trailblazers general manager Kevin Pritchard, while Free State’s Evan Manning is the son of former NBA standout and current Kansas University assistant men’s basketball coach Danny Manning.