Chuck Law didn’t exactly toss the whole “defense-wins-championships” ethos out the window Friday night.
But the Free State boys basketball coach was quick to admit following his team’s 62-50 road victory over rival Lawrence High that, sometimes, it takes some good, old-fashioned scoring to win a basketball game.
“I guess we understate the importance of putting the ball in the basket sometimes,” Law said. “You can talk about defense all you want, but you’ve got to get the ball in the hole more times than the other team.”
The Firebirds had little trouble in that regard Friday, finishing 18-of-40 from the field as four players finished with nine or more points, and Free State rolled to its third-highest scoring output of the season.
With the exception of a forgettable first quarter, during which they shot 3-of-13 from the field and looked out of it at times, the Firebirds’ offense thrived, putting up point totals of 19, 17 and 17 in the game’s final three quarters.
“Our gameplan was to attack their zone, find open spots on the floor and hit shots,” said Free State senior Bo Schneider, who scored six of his nine points in the fourth quarter.
It was easy to understand the Firebirds’ early-game nerves, given the level of energy provided by the school’s boisterous student section, which offered up a highly entertaining cheer commentary throughout the evening. They opened the game by revealing a surprisingly large banner that read “You’re just jealous $ can’t buy tradition,” and later showered Evan Manning, son of former NBA standout and current Kansas University men’s basketball assistant Danny Manning, with the following chant: “You’re not Danny (clap clap clap clap clap).”
There was only so much the crowd could do, however, and after its hot first-quarter start, Lawrence High promptly fell apart during the next two quarters.
The Firebirds opened the second quarter on a 10-2 run and outscored LHS by 13 in the second quarter to take a 28-22 advantage into halftime. They followed that with a 14-4 run to open the second half, a stretch that pushed their lead to 16.
The Lions did manage to piece together a bit of a comeback attempt late. A three-point basket by senior Matthew Montes de Oca with 5:37 remaining in the fourth quarter pulled LHS within six, 47-41.
But the Firebirds quickly pushed their advantage back into double digits, converting 12 of 20 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to lock up a two-game sweep of LHS this season and improve to 9-11 heading into Thursday’s 7 p.m. Class 6A sub-state matchup with Shawnee Mission West.
Senior Nick Hassig led Free State with 13 points, and forward Ryan Scott added nine points and seven rebounds. Marcus Ray (22 points, 10 rebounds) was the only Lawrence High player to finish in double-figure scoring.
“You’ve got to survive the stretches where you can’t get it going offensively,” said Lawrence High coach Mike Lewis, whose team fell to 4-16. “You’ve got to be able to counter with something, and we had a hard time finding a counter tonight.”