Free State boys cruise to 51-36 win over Blue Valley West
photo by: Carter Gaskins
For the first time since mid-December, Free State’s boys basketball team didn’t have to sweat the outcome in the waning moments.
The Firebirds never trailed — and led by double digits for much of the night — on their way to a 51-36 victory over Blue Valley West Tuesday night at FSHS. Free State (6-1) was stagnant on defense, and did just enough on offense without its best player to earn a 15-point win.
“It is nice to know when a team can’t stop you,” junior DK Middleton said. “And we played good defense.”
Middleton was at the forefront of the Firebirds’ comfortable win over the Jaguars (4-5).
The junior guard scored a game-high 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the floor, and added a 7-for-8 effort from the free-throw line. Middleton threw down an emphatic dunk in the opening quarter, in which FSHS jumped out to a 10-4 advantage within the first eight minutes.
Middleton got the ball, and took one step toward the rim before leaping. Middleton rose above his defender to throw down a thunderous slam, and he hit the ensuing free throw to complete the 3-point play.
“I saw him and I knew he was going to jump, so I had to jump,” Middleton said. “I bounced off him so I could still dunk.”
Middleton was especially important Tuesday after senior Noah Butler went down with an ankle injury at the 5:46 mark in the second quarter. The Firebirds (No. 6 in Class 6A) played the remaining two-plus quarters without the services of Butler.
The tandem of Middleton and junior Ethan Lincoln helped fill the void. Lincoln connected on a pair of triples, while Middleton created opportunities off the dribble. Both players each scored 8 points during a 19-point showing in the second quarter by the Firebirds, stretching their lead to 29-17 at the intermission.
“The thing I like about DK is that he is a gamer,” FSHS coach Sam Stroh said. “He does what he needs to to help us win. He does a lot of things for us, and we needed him to step up with Noah down.”
Yet it was Free State’s defense that proved to be the biggest key to the team’s double-digit win.
On the very first possession, FSHS starters Mozae Downing and Andrew Piper, along with Butler, Middleton and Lincoln, were put to the test. The Jaguars ran their offense for 72 seconds before taking their first shot of the game, which clanked off the rim.
Free State eventually held Blue Valley West to a season-low 36 points on an 11-for-42 effort from the field. It marked the seventh time in as many games that an opposing team failed to reach 59 points against the Firebirds.
“We are not last year’s team where we just outscore those teams,” Stroh said. “We are going to have to outgrind people, but this was a good test for us.”
Most of all, though, the double-digit win was a nice breather for FSHS, which had been tested as of late. Since the team’s 24-point win in the season opener, all but one of Free State’s five games have been decided by 6 points or fewer.
Over that span, the Firebirds scored 259 points on offense and allowed a total of 236 points on defense.
“We have a lot of inexperience, so it is different when you are playing in these type of settings,” Stroh said. “They have done a good job executing and finishing games, but we still have a long way to go.”
Free State will face Mill Valley in the first round of the McPherson Invitational at 4:45 p.m. Thursday.
Blue Valley West (36)
Matt Cairns 2-5 0-0 4; Wyatt Stull 0-3 5-6 5; Spencer Bain 2-11 2-3 8; Scott Riddle 1-5 0-0 3; O’Mar Stanley 1-7 2-2 4; Ben Coates 0-2 0-0 0; Jabari Brickhouse 1-4 0-0 3; David Brown 1-1 0-0 2; Greg Riddle 3-4 0-0 7. Totals: 11-42 9-11 36.
Free State (51)
Mozae Downing 1-4 5-8 7; Noah Butler 3-4 1-1 7; DK Middleton 4-11 7-8 16; Andrew Piper 0-3 2-2 2; Ethan Lincoln 2-4 3-4 9; Turner Corcoran 2-3 2-3 6; Ryan Stacey 0-1 0-0 0; Alyus Wisdom 1-2 2-2 4. Totals: 13-32 22-28 51.
BV West 4 13 10 9 – 36
Free State 10 19 12 10 – 51
3-point goals: BV West 5-15 (Bain 2, S. Riddle, Brickhouse, G. Riddle); Free State 3-6 (Middleton, Lincoln 2). Turnovers: BV West 13, Free State 10. Fouled out: David Brown, BV West.