Overland Park Free State High’s girls basketball players and coaches left Shawnee Mission South on Monday night trying to wrap their brains around what exactly went wrong in a 49-46 loss to the Raiders.
“I don’t have any answers,” Firebirds coach Bryan Duncan said after his team surrendered a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. “Honestly, I don’t.”
Junior FSHS forward Scout Wiebe banked in a jumper with 5:40 left to give the Firebirds (5-2) a 45-35 advantage, but they didn’t convert another field goal. Free State’s only other point came on a Wiebe free throw with 3:01 left as SM South (4-4) closed on a decisive 14-1 run.
Despite its lack of offense and five fourth-quarter turnovers, FSHS still had a chance at least to send the game to overtime when Raiders junior guard Sierra Roberts missed both of her free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining.
Senior Chelsea Casady grabbed the defensive rebound for Free State on the second misfire and passed the ball ahead to senior guard Kennedy Kirkpatrick. The Firebirds’ leading scorer, with 13 points, Kirkpatrick saw an opening to tie the game with a three-pointer from a couple of steps behind the arc on the left wing. The shot went up in time but bounced off the glass, then the rim, ending Free State’s five-game winning streak.
Kirkpatrick, who also had five assists, said her main goal was to find an opening.
“Seven seconds goes by quick in those situations,” she said. “So at that point it’s not, ‘Let’s look up at the clock and see how much time I have.’ It’s, ‘Let’s shoot before the clock runs out.’”
Duncan had a timeout left, but decided to let the team’s leader try to make a play on the fly.
“I’ve always thought, offensively, that allows the defense to set as well,” Duncan said of calling a timeout. “I felt like our best opportunity was to come down with a pull-up three or a dribble-drive and kick-out three, where they (the Raiders) don’t have a chance to talk about defending the three.”
Of course, last-minute strategy would never have come up if Free State hadn’t suddenly strayed off course in the fourth quarter. Though SM South held a 25-21 halftime lead, Free State seemed to take control in the third quarter, when Casady scored eight of her 10 points, Kirkpatrick scored in the post and passed out three assists, Wiebe scored five points and junior shooting guard Millie Shade (11 points) hit one of her three three-pointers.
Free State continued to look better than it had at any point in the first half in the opening minutes of the fourth, too. Wiebe scored on a drive, Shade knocked down a pull-up jumper, and Wiebe (12 points, 10 rebounds) scored another field goal before the Firebirds went completely cold.
Said Casady: “I think we took our lead for granted… We thought, ‘We have a good cushion, we can relax.’”
FSHS led until the 1:19 mark of the fourth, when Raiders senior forward Sam Bendrick (game-high 18 points), hit two free throws, putting SM South ahead, 47-46. Junior Allison Hines hit two more with 35 seconds left following a Free State turnover.
Casady said the Firebirds lost their composure as SM South chipped away at the lead: “We started to rush a little more and didn’t get the shots that we wanted.”
Issues with composure continued, Kirkpatrick added, as SM South went to the foul line and converted on eight of its 11 fourth-quarter tries
“We had a couple calls that didn’t go our way, and we got so frustrated we just lost sight of the game,” Kirkpatrick said. “We were more worried about other things, and it came back to bite us.”
The most puzzling part of the loss for Duncan was that FSHS had played so well the first 10-plus minutes of the second half before the game slipped away.
“We’ve got to figure out how to adjust, because that’s twice now we’ve blown a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter,” Duncan said, referring to Free State’s season-opening, two-point loss at Topeka Seaman. “Certainly, as coaches, we’ve got to figure out what buttons to push to make sure we’re successful in those situations. I really like our team against anybody with a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.”
FSHS (No. 4 in Class 6A) will play host to Olathe Northwest (No. 8) on Friday.