Following Tuesday’s game, Free State High boys basketball coach Chuck Law found himself returning to the word “disappointed.”
On the heels of Free State’s fourth straight win — this time a 65-54 victory over Shawnee Mission West at FSHS — that only meant that Law wanted to see something more than the uneven performance the Firebirds turned in.
FSHS (11-6) never trailed in the game and led by as many as 21 over a seemingly outmatched SM West team.
But for Law, the defense, especially in the half court, was nowhere near where he expects it to be.
“We do it in spurts,” Law said. “We can’t focus for long enough periods of time. I think this can be a really dynamic defensive team, not just in the press, but in the half court.”
While the first-half defense was average for Law’s standards, offensively, the Firebirds were nearly flawless before halftime.
Senior Evan Manning scored 14 of his 18 points to lead a balanced attack, featuring a barrage of smooth jump shots from Eric Watson (10 points), Alec Heline (11 points) and Brett Frantz (seven points).
Georgi Funtarov also added 10 points and seven rebounds.
“Offensively we played together in the first half,” said Manning, who added seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. “A lot of our buckets came off of assists, good passes, and turnovers.”
Perhaps too comfortable with their 41-23 halftime cushion, the Firebirds looked a bit sluggish to begin the third quarter.“We were afraid at the half that it was going to become a bit of a ‘let me get mine’ type of second half by us,” Law said. “And we did that a bit. I thought we were selfish with the ball.
“I thought we had guys open under the basket frequently, but we had guys focused on getting their own instead of getting an assist to a teammate.”
Slowly, though the crowd’s relaxed mood gave the feel of a game well in hand, the Vikings, led by 14 points from senior Preston Felgate, began to chip away in the third quarter.
It took a quick, 7-0 run by SM West to open the fourth quarter, which cut the lead to 52-44, for FSHS to finally dial back up the intensity.
“We definitely should never stop the energy,” Manning said. “That’s something we can always control. We can always keep up our defensive energy, and when we don’t play hard or together like we’ve been practicing, it shows.”
Heline buried a three, Watson hit an and-one, and Shawn Knighton added two free throws to extend the lead back to 61-46.
“It can be hard to keep your attention when you have a lead like that,” Law said. “But they sure made it interesting.”
Though the Firebirds seem to be coming together at the right time, they’ll need to put in a complete, start-to-finish effort if they hope to knock off Olathe South on Friday.
“If we play selfishly and don’t play with more attention to detail — containing the dribble, help side defense — we’re going to be in for a long night,” Law said. “Because they’ll expose us all game long with their quickness.”
Free State High boys 65, SM West 54
SM WEST (54)
Matt Smith 2-8 4-4 8, Preston Felgate 6-8 0-0 14, Mitch Mansour 2-6 3-5 8, Derrian Henderson 0-0 1-2 1, Mitch Witter 5-11 2-5 12, Nick Thayer 1-1 2-2 4, Mike Meier 1-1 2-2 5, Jay Tamaat 0-1 0-0 0, Jacob Schnackenberg 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 18-37 14-20 54
FREE STATE (65)
Shawn Knighton 0-2 3-4 3, Austin Hoag 0-2 0-0 0, Eric Watson 4-11 1-1 10, Alec Heline 4-8 0-0 11, Evan Manning 6-10 4-6 18, Georgi Funtarov 2-8 6-8 10, Brett Frantz 2-6 2-2 7, Tyler Self 0-1 2-4 2, Cameron Dabney 2-2 0-1 4, Gabe Patterson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 20-50 18-26 65
SM West 12 11 14 17 — 54
Free State 22 19 11 13 — 65
Three-point goals: SMW 4-14 (Felgate 2, Mansour, Meier); Free State 7-15 (Heline 3, Manning 2, Watson, Frantz). Fouled out: SMW — Smith, Witter; Free State — Hoag. Shooting: SMW 18-37 (48 percent); Free State 20-50 (40 percent). Turnovers: SMW 21, Free State 7.