Free State boys hold off Indians
When the final seconds were ticking off of the clock on Tuesday, Free State High boys basketball players started jumping up and down and pumping their fists.
After a few close losses last month, the Firebirds weren’t going to let go of their fourth-quarter lead against Shawnee Mission North. Behind a career-high 30 points from senior Weston Hack, the Firebirds beat the sixth-ranked Indians, 69-57, at FSHS.
The Firebirds led by 13 points with six minutes left before the Indians (10-5) went on a 13-4 run over the next three minutes to cut the score to 58-54.
But Free State (8-6) never backed down and hit 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch to rip out a victory.
“We made just enough plays,” FSHS coach Chuck Law said. “The best part for me after they cut that lead to four … we really responded. We could’ve let that thing slip through our fingers. We did against Aquinas in kind of a similar situation. But we finished tonight. That’s a mark of a team that’s making some progress.”
After the Indians tied the score early in the third quarter, the Firebirds went on a 16-5 run to push their lead into double digits. They scored on six of nine possessions, with two threes from 6-foot-5 sophomore Sloan Thomsen and two more triples by Hack and junior Hunter Gudde. Sophomore Jay Dineen also added a layup, outracing the Indians down the court on a fast break.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hack scored seven straight points in a 46-second stretch.
Hack, who scored a previous career-high 28 points on Friday, went 12-for-13 at the free-throw line and shot 8-for-13 from the field. He also added eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“After the Olathe East and Lansing games (at the end of January), I was really struggling offensively,” Hack said. “I sort of just sat down and thought to myself, ‘I have to go out every single game and have the mind-set that I’m the best player on the floor.’ That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
SM North junior Michael Weathers did his best to help the Indians rally in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his team-high 27 points in the period. The quick 6-foot-1 guard was a focus for the Firebirds all night, drawing a face-guard from FSHS senior Andrew Keating in the first quarter before Free State went to a zone.
However, Weathers fouled out with two minutes left when Gudde drew a charge in a three-point game. His twin brother, Marcus, scored 15 points, and he fouled out about a minute beforehand.
“I think Michael Weathers might be the best player in the league,” Hack said. “Fortunately we were able to get him in some foul trouble. We talked about that before the game. That was a big key.”
In Monday’s practice, to prepare for SM North’s speed and athleticism, the Firebirds put seven or eight players on the court against their offense.
“That was fun,” said senior forward Jack Raney, who scored nine points. “We just basically had the five offensive players, and then the rest of the team was playing defense. We just worked the ball around and worked on their double-teams.”
The extra practice against a full-court press helped the Firebirds climb back from a few early deficits for a 29-27 lead at halftime and eventually their first three-game winning streak of the season.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Law said. “We have a lot of confidence right now. There’s no substitute for confidence. The guys believe in each other right now, and that’s critical in terms of any long-term success.”
Free State (69)
Andrew Keating 3-7 0-0 7, Weston Hack 8-13 12-13 30, Justin Narcomey 1-3 0-0 2, Hunter Gudde 3-9 4-6 11, Jack Raney 2-3 5-6 9, Chrision Wilburn 0-0 0-0 0, Sloan Thomsen 2-3 0-0 6, Jay Dineen 1-3 1-2 3, Shannon Cordes 0-0 1-3 1. Totals 20-41 23-30 69.
Shawnee Mission North (57)
Michael Weathers 5-8 3-4 15, Torrence Allen 3-8 1-2 9, Brendan Henderson 1-3 0-0 2, Will Schneider 0-4 0-0 0, Michael Weathers 8-16 9-11 27, Cole Gibson 1-1 0-0 2, Nick Perez 1-5 0-0 2, Charles Littlejohn 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 19-48 13-17 57.
SM North 16 11 12 18 — 57
Free State 15 14 18 22 — 69
Three-point field goals: Free State 6-11 (Hack 2, Thomsen 2, Keating, Gudde); SM North 6-24 (Mi. Weathers 2, Ma. Weathers 2, Allen 2). Fouled out: Ma. Weathers, Allen, Mi. Weathers. Turnovers: Free State 15, SM North 14.