Free State boys basketball overcomes inconsistency to defeat Lansing 53-43

Free State coach Sam Stroh talks to his team during a timeout. Free State defeated Lansing 53-43 in the 810 Varsity Sunflower Showcase on Saturday, Jan. 4.

Kansas City, Kan. — Despite cooling off after a fast start, Free State boys basketball held on for a 53-43 victory over Lansing at the 810 Varsity Sunflower Showcase on Saturday.

DK Middleton led the way for Free State with 22 points.

“We need DK to play (like that) the rest of the year,” Free State coach Sam Stroh said. “I don’t think he would say he that played very well to start the season, but that’s the DK we expect the rest of the year.”

The Firebirds looked to be the more composed team initially, as Free State jumped out to an early 10-2 lead in the first quarter. Much of this was due to 3-pointers from senior guards Olin Yoder, Ethan Lincoln and Middleton.

“It still wasn’t what we expect, but a good thing for us is we have a lot of games ahead of us,” Stroh said. “It’s still a learning experience and a new group and a new team. And now we can get back into a bit of a normal routine the rest of the season.”

Stroh said the coaches challenged the starters to start the game strong, but hanging onto early momentum has been difficult early on this season.

“It’s a challenge for us, right now, to play consistently,” Stroh said. “I’ve seen us play consistently at times in games. I saw it this week in practice. For whatever reason, we’ve got to (figure out how to) put 32 minutes together.”

Even as the Firebirds cooled off toward the end of the quarter, Free State still held onto a 17-8 lead as Lansing couldn’t make outside shots.

However, Free State started off the second quarter with a pair of turnovers and some inconsistency on offense. This allowed Lansing to crawl back into the game, as the Lions started to regain momentum.

Outside of a few highlight plays — including junior guard Mozae Downing throwing a lob up for a Middleton dunk — it was Lansing that made a statement in the second quarter. A three-point play from forward Braeden Howard and a quick five points from Peyton Basler cut the lead to 23-22 at halftime.

“The guys did more of the talking,” Stroh said of the halftime conversation. “They knew that we could play better.”

The third quarter proved to be even chippier. Lansing stayed within striking distance, but turnovers ultimately defined the third quarter, with both teams combining for 11 turnovers.

Regardless, Free State held onto a 36-33 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Firebirds started the fourth quarter strong with a 11-0 run. Thanks to Middleton — who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter — and the Firebirds’ defense, the Lions finally cooled off. Free State outscored Lansing 17-10 in the fourth quarter, and the Firebirds held on for the victory.

Based on what he’s seen over the past two weeks — including winter break and Saturday’s game — Stroh is looking forward for his team to get back into a rhythm.

“I thought we played really well in practice, especially considering we weren’t satisfied with how we played (before) the break,” Stroh said. “But I didn’t see that today, in terms of consistency. So it’s a challenge for all of us, coaches included. So hopefully we’ll improve between now and Tuesday.”

Free State will next face Shawnee Mission South at home on Tuesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

Free State (53)

DK Middleton 8-11 5-7 22, Miles Branch 3-5 2-4 8, Ethan Lincoln 2-5 2-2 7, Mozae Downing 2-4 3-4 7, Olin Yoder 1-4 0-0 3, Kris Daniels 1-1 0-0 3, Andrew Piper 0-3 2-2 2, Wyatt Durland 0-0 1-3 1, Cole Wheeler 0-1 0-0 0, Isaac Gonzales 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-35 15-22 53.

Lansing (43)

Peyton Basler 6-11 1-1 16, Jake Jackson 3-7 1-3 7, Alex Mack 3-11 0-0 6, Charles Wood 3-4 0-0 6, Braeden Howard 1-3 2-5 4, Malik Benson 2-6 0-0 4, Caden Crawford 0-2 0-2 0, Trevor Couch 0-2 0-2 0, Jake Tangeman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-47 4-11 43.

Free State 17 6 13 17 — 53

Lansing 8 14 11 10 — 43

3-point field goals: Free State 4-17 (Middleton, Yoder, Lincoln, Daniels); Lansing 3-21 (Basler). Turnovers: Free State 16, Lansing 13.

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