After Shawnee Mission East senior guard Vance Wentz torched Free State High’s boys basketball team in the first half Tuesday night at FSHS, it seemed the Firebirds might be capable of a rally if they could just force someone else to become the visiting team’s primary option.
Even though Free State held the Lancers’ star to three second-half points, SME showed why it is ranked No. 2 in Class 6A and shut down the Firebirds in the fourth quarter to win easily, 56-33.
Wentz, a versatile 6-foot-4 guard, hit four first-half three-pointers and outscored FSHS by himself, 18-15, as the Lancers took a 28-15 lead into the break. But even when Chuck Law’s Firebirds played their best stretch of basketball in the third quarter, creating easy baskets on offense while limiting Wentz to 1-for-3 shooting, Wentz’s teammates began to chip in.
“That just shows you they’ve got really good players, besides him,” Law said.
Making the biggest impact for SME (18-1) was senior Zach Schneider. The 6-7 guard scored three-straight buckets for the Lancers in the fourth quarter, when he put up eight of his 16 points.
The real trouble for FSHS (8-11) came on offense in the fourth. The Firebirds had cut a 19-point third-quarter deficit to 38-28 entering the final quarter after juniors Khadre Lane, Reshawn Caro, Blake Winslow and Keith Loneker started getting to the paint for baskets.
But Free State went scoreless the first five-plus minutes of the fourth against the Lancers’ extended 2-3 zone. By the time senior Logan Bannister banked in a short jumper inside, SME had built a 48-30 lead.
Caro said East’s length snuffed out the FSHS offense.
“That zone was real hard. It was kind of like a Syracuse defense. They kind of shortened the court for us and it was hard for us to execute our set plays,” he said, adding they couldn’t even work the ball around at times. “And when we did we couldn’t knock down the shots.”
Law agreed: “It’s hard to get shots up and it’s hard to even see.”
All the positive momentum Free State built in the third quarter — Law pointed out the Firebirds out-scored SME 21-19 in the second and third quarters — ended up useless when the Lancers, who didn’t allow a single FSHS player to reach double-figure scoring, switched up their defense for the fourth.
“I think if they would’ve went man, we could’ve cut it down lower,” Caro said. “But that zone, the length is what held us and made us waste a lot of clock.”
Lane led FSHS with seven points. Cole Moreano scored six, Caro had five and Winslow added four off the bench.
On Friday, the Firebirds play host to rival Lawrence for the City Showdown.