FSHS boys survive late scare in 47-37 win over Mill Valley
SHAWNEE — Free State’s boys basketball team has become all too familiar with closing out games this season.
Regardless of the situation, the Firebirds have often found themselves in games that come down to the final minutes. Monday’s rematch with Mill Valley was no different, even though Free State led for every second of its 47-37 road win after scoring on the game’s first possession.
“That’s who we are,” FSHS coach Sam Stroh said. “We are not going to blow anyone out by any means, we like to make things interesting. It was even that way this summer. We played well enough to win, and that was the important part.”
A little over two weeks ago, the Firebirds (10-3, No. 9 in Class 6A) cruised to a 61-44 win over the Jaguars in the first round of the McPherson Invitational. It was one of the few games this season that didn’t come down to the wire for Free State.
But the team’s latest hard-fought victory wouldn’t have been possible without the help of an unlikely suspect.
Junior Olin Yoder, who had made just one varsity appearance before Monday, made two of Free State’s three 3-pointers in the win. Both of Yoder’s triples came in crucial points of the game against a Mill Valley (2-14) zone defense that hindered perimeter looks most of the night.
“Without Olin hitting those 3s, we are probably in overtime. Heck, we might lose it,” Stroh said. “I told him at halftime to get ready. He’s a kid that never complains, and works hard in practice. He was big tonight, hitting those two shots. The pressure was on, too.”
Yoder’s first 3-pointer came at the 7:33 mark in the third quarter, which was the highlight of a decisive 9-0 run by FSHS. His second 3-pointer, however, was even more important.
The Jaguars went to a full-court pressure defense in the fourth quarter, forcing multiple miscues by the Firebirds. Mill Valley eventually trimmed the deficit to 6 points with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
Freshman point guard Mozae Downing settled the offense down, trying to look for the right shot. He drove through the lane and saw wide-open teammates at the right wing. Downing flipped it to Yoder with no hesitation, and the reserve canned the 3-pointer.
“Olin is a great player,” Downing said. “For him to come off the bench like that, it gives us a nice boost. He’s a great competitor and a great shooter. I know he’s going to knock his shots down. We can count on him to make any shot.”
One possession later, senior Noah Butler caught the ball on the high post and hit junior DK Middleton, who cut through the lane. Middleton finished the sequence off with the game’s only dunk, extending Free State’s lead to double digits.
Still, it was a statement sequence by a team that has become accustomed to close games.
Every Free State player seems to thrive in clutch moments, and no situation has appeared too big. Butler, who led the team with 14 points, attacked the glass on defense and went to post-ups on offense in key moments.
Middleton scored nine of his 12 points in the final period. Junior Ethan Lincoln netted all but one of his four free throws in the fourth quarter. Downing dished out two of his game-high nine assists on key plays down the stretch.
“Hopefully, (these close games) will pay off at the end of February and beginning of March,” Stroh said. “At times, we looked pretty good. At times, we looked like a team that wasn’t playing very smart.”
Free State plays host to Lansing at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
FREE STATE (47)
Mozae Downing 2-4 1-2 5, Noah Butler 6-13 2-3 14, DK Middleton 5-10 2-3 12, Ethan Lincoln 2-6 3-4 8, Turner Corcoran 0-3 0-2 0, Andrew Piper 1-3 0-0 2, Ryan Stacey 0-3 0-0 0, Olin Yoder 2-2 0-0 6. Totals: 18-44 8-14 47.
MILL VALLEY (37)
Matt7 Wittenauer 3-9 3-5 12, Nick Davie 0-5 0-2 0, Braeden Wiltse 3-5 8-9 14, Jack McGuire 2-4 0-2 4, James Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Noah McCoy 0-5 0-0 0, Pete Janssen 1-3 3-5 5, Seth Hobson 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 10-36 14-23 37.
Free State 17 4 11 15 — 47
Mill Valley 9 11 5 12 — 37
Three-point goals: FSHS 3-13 (Yoder 2, Lincoln); Mill Valley 3-14 (Wittenauer 3). Turnovers: FSHS 10, Mill Valley 11. Fouled out: McGuire, MV.