Emporia Seabury Academy’s boys basketball team arrived at White Auditorium Friday afternoon with visions of three wins and a Class 1A Division I state championship.
At the state tournament, though, every team has the same three-day agenda. With a 51-50 first-round defeat of the Seahawks, top-seeded Ashland remained undefeated and kept its dream season alive.
Seabury (13-11) and its three multi-talented, long and athletic swingmen — senior Georgi Funtarov, sophomore Khadre Lane and senior Thomas Diaz — couldn’t overcome the Blue Jays’ senior trio of Jay Luerman (19 points, 11 rebounds), Giles Fox (14 points) and Chance Stebens (11 points).
While Funtarov led all scorers with 22 points and made a game-best four three-pointers, the Ashland seniors stole the show in the second half. Seabury had built an 11-point lead in the third quarter when Luerman, Fox and Stebens, who don’t know what it feels like to lose as seniors, decided they weren’t interested in experiencing defeat for the first time this season.
Ashland (24-0) benefited from Luerman’s ability to slash to the paint, Fox’s brute strength inside and Stebens’ ability to hit key second-half three-pointers.
“The better basketball team won it,” Seahawks coach Ashley Battles said. “The team with better players, with guys that’ll move on and do probably bigger, better things didn’t win. But those were really good basketball players — small, western Kansas kids that were willing to do whatever it took.”
Seabury had its chances late. After Seahawks senior guard Garrett Gillett hit two free throws with 1:50 remaining, AHS led 50-45.
Ashland had a turnover, and Stebens missed the front end of a one-and-one in the following minute. Then, on one possession, the Seahawks missed three straight shots, grabbing the offensive rebound each time, before Lane finally converted inside and drew a foul with 44 seconds left. AHS led 50-47 after Lane missed his free throw.
Forced to foul, the Seahawks put Luerman at the line, and he missed his bonus try with 40 seconds on the clock.
Following a timeout by Battles, Ashland denied Funtarov a touch, and senior forward Jesse May hoisted a three-pointer from the left wing that fell short.
Leurman went back to the foul line and left the door open for Seabury once more, missing his only attempt of a one-and-one opportunity.
Lane grabbed the defensive board and went the length of the floor, looking for contact on a layup. The off-balance attempt was off the mark, though, and Fox grabbed the rebound. He finally sealed the victory for AHS with a free throw at the six-second mark.
Funtarov drilled his fourth three-pointer of the afternoon just before time expired, but it left Seabury one point shy.
The 6-foot-7 forward from Bulgaria said the Seahawks knew Ashland’s strengths coming into state, but they had trouble stopping them in the second half. With the excitement of the Blue Jays’ third-quarter run, the No. 1 seed had all the momentum.
A three-pointer by Lane, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, put Seabury up 39-28 in the third quarter. However, Ashland scored the next 16 points, with scores from Chance Stebens, Fox, Luerman and Austin Stebens.
The run included two free throws for Austin with 1:44 left in the third. That’s when Battles was called for a technical foul after Lane had gone up for a lay-up, appeared to draw contact, and no foul was called.
A bucket inside by May (nine points) in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter put an end to a decisive Seabury drought.
Lane said the Seahawks failed to execute in the second half of their season-ending loss, and that fueled Ashland’s game-changing run.
“You kind of have to expect it,” Lane said of the Blue Jays’ comeback. “They’re 23-0 for a reason. They’re not gonna just fold.”
The Seahawks made just eight of their 23 second-half shot attempts (35 percent), while AHS went 10-for-19 (53 percent).
“I think they just took advantage of our bad decisions,” he said, noting his team lacked patience on the offensive end. “As a team, from the coach all the way down through the players, it was just bad decision after bad decision.”
Added Lane: “We were taking bad shots and shots weren’t falling.”
Still, Battles said he was proud of his guys for the season they had, and they will have to learn from the loss and move on.
“People villainize us because we do have some players,” he said. “At the end of the day, man, these are great kids.”
— Check out Benton Smith's "Prep Appraisals" from the game at The Dividing Line.