Free State stumbles at SM North
Overland Park ? As early as pre-game warmups Wednesday night, Free State High senior Weston Hack sensed something amiss for the black-clad visitors at Shawnee Mission North, site of the Firebirds’ Class 6A sub-state opener.
Sure enough, in the opening minutes that followed, No. 6 seed FSHS gave away possessions and missed shots it typically makes. While the sub-par start didn’t bring with it an insurmountable lead for the No. 3 seed Indians, the Firebirds’ offensive rhythm never materialized in a season-ending 50-26 loss.
Free State (11-10) turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions, made just one of seven shot attempts in the first quarter and entered the second with two points to its name.
“We just didn’t have a lot of intensity, not much of a sense of urgency,” Hack said after his nine-point prep finale, “and that just carried over.”
Nerves, FSHS Chuck Law guessed, might have contributed to those early struggles.
“But, you know,” he said, shaking his head after his team scored its fewest points of the season, “the game had such an odd flow to it. As poor as we were offensively, it’s still 6-2 at the quarter.”
Free State’s coaches reminded their players the only thing that mattered entering the second was that they trailed by four points. But more of the same followed in the next eight minutes.
Junior Hunter Gudde scored five of his seven points in the second, but the Firebirds made just three of nine field goals. They had seven turnovers in the first half and trailed 19-10 entering the third.
Nine points didn’t seem too unreasonable of a deficit to overcome, so the Firebirds, unable to play man-to-man against the athletic Indians (14-7), kept playing zone to open the second half and mixed in traps to disrupt SMN. And it worked.
The Indians turned the ball over five times in the first 4:17 of the third quarter. However, Free State missed its first five field-goal attempts and turned the ball over five times before Hack hit a three-pointer off a pass from sophomore Sloan Thomsen with 1:16 left in the quarter.
“That was our real opportunity,” Law said of the defense in the third, which coincided with FSHS making just two shots (both Hack three-pointers).
Added Hack: “We got the stops. We just couldn’t convert offensively. I think their length really bothered us.”
Unlike the Feb. 10 regular-season meeting between the two teams — at FSHS, where the Firebirds won 69-57 — SMN defended at a high level. Junior Marcus Weathers not only blocked four shots, he truly protected the rim when FSHS got the ball inside. The leaping 6-3 defender, Hack said, might have had the Firebirds second-guessing attacks.
“Ideally it wouldn’t, but when you get in there, you’re thinking in the back of your mind, ‘Where’s he at? Do I have to alter my shot to keep it away form him?’ And that sort of messes with you and you’re not in your normal rhythm,” said Hack, who shot 3-for-13. “He had a huge impact on the game defensively.”
Free State cut the SMN lead to seven early in the fourth, after sophomore Shannon Cordes scored on a drive and banked in a three. But Marcus and Michael Weathers (18 points apiece) scored 17 of their team’s final 21 points to send the Indians to a sub-state title game against Shawnee Mission West on Friday.
“They came to play tonight,” Law said, “and they were just the better team than we were.”
FREE STATE (26)
Andrew Keating 1-4 0-0 2, Weston Hack 3-13 1-2 9, Justin Narcomey 0-1 0-0 0, Hunter Gudde 2-7 3-3 7, Jack Raney 0-1 0-0 0, Sloan Thomsen 0-5 0-0 0, Jay Dineen 0-1 1-2 1, Jacob Pavlyak 0-1 0-0 0, Darian Lewis 0-1 0-0 0, Shannon Cordes 2-5 0-2 5, Caleb Holland 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 9-41 5-9 26.
SM NORTH (50)
Marcus Weathers 5-12 8-11 18, Torrence Allen 2-3 2-2 6, Brendon Henderson 1-4 0-0 2, Nick Perez 2-4 0-0 4, Michael Weathers 5-10 8-9 18, Will Schneider 0-1 0-0 0, Cole Gibson 0-2 0-0 0, Andrew Gonzales 1-1 0-0 2, Bryon Morgan 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-39 18-23 50.
Free State 2 8 7 9 — 26
SM North 6 13 8 23 — 50
Three-point goals: FSHS 3-15 (Hack 2, Cordes); SMN 0-5. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: FSHS 14, SMN 13.