Column: Second quarter fateful for FSHS prospects

Ten weeks after the boys basketball teams from the city’s two public high schools first faced each other, Free State High coach Chuck Law’s confidence in his team’s ability to play Lawrence High straight-up increased tenfold.

In three of the four quarters Friday night at The Jungle, Lawrence’s charming, old-school home court, the Firebirds justified their coach’s confidence in them in a 57-50 loss to the state’s No. 2-ranked team.

The Firebirds opened the game by blazing to a 13-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. Weston Hack had his fingerprints on so many positive plays in the opening eight minutes, scoring six points, feeding teammates and hitting the boards hard. Hunter Gudde took it to the Lions, and Justin Narcomey hit a three-pointer.

It’s not that unusual for teams to hang with LHS (19-1) for three of the four quarters, only to watch junior point guard Justin Roberts and senior shooting guard Anthony Bonner dominate the other one.

Typically, it’s the fourth quarter. This time it was the second. Bonner and Roberts combined for 15 second-quarter points, and Free State went cold. Both guards do such a good job of setting up teammates and shoot with such confidence that when they get the adrenaline flowing, close games turn into double-digit leads faster than you can sing, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle … “

“I thought we played well for 24 out of the 32 minutes,” Law said. “You can’t have a two-point quarter, and you can’t let them get 19 in a quarter.”

Turnovers and poor shot selection plagued Free State (11-9) until it regained its composure at halftime.

“We lost our minds,” Law said of the second quarter. “Took some quick shots. The quicker shots you take, the more they’re going to get out and go. They get going offensively, their defense gets going, and next thing you know, you’re in that whirlwind.”

John Barbee plays a key role in that whirlwind for the Lions on the boards and defensively, where he did a nice job of keeping Hack (20 points) from getting the ball in the second quarter.

Law’s decision to forgo the stall that worked well on Dec. 19, 2014, in Lawrence’s 39-33 victory was a wise one because it showed the Firebirds they don’t need to trick it up to play with an elite team, and it should infuse No. 6 seed Free State with confidence heading into Wednesday’s sub-state road game vs. Shawnee Mission North, the third seed. Free State defeated the Indians, 69-57, Feb. 11 at home, when Hack went off for a career-high 30 points.