After second half comeback, Free State boys basketball defeats Shawnee Mission Northwest 54-51

Shawnee Mission Northwest junior forward Ty Blecha and Free State senior forward DK Middleton get ready for tipoff. Free State defeated SM Northwest 54-51 on Friday, Dec. 20.

Shawnee — Right after the Firebirds gave up a basket in the lane at the beginning of the third quarter, Free State coach Sam Stroh clapped his hands and yelled for his team to “wake up.”

“For our guys, being in the hole was kind of shocking,” Stroh said. “But you’ve got to bring some energy, whether you’re on the bench or in the game, we want to be the most vocal team in the gym. And we weren’t at the moment.

“I don’t want to be the cheerleading coach as well, but needed to kind of wake up the sideline a little bit.”

And wake up they did, as Free State boys basketball defeated Shawnee Mission Northwest on the road 54-51 Friday. Senior forward DK Middleton and junior center Andrew Piper led the way for Free State with 11 points apiece.

“I’m proud of the way the guys came together to fight in the fourth quarter,” Stroh said. “We’ll take it. But that’s one of the ugliest wins I’ve ever been a part of as a head coach.”

However, the Firebirds did come out hot to start the game, with an early corner 3 from senior guard Olin Yoder and a pair of layups from Middleton. But the Cougars responded quickly to take a 17-12 at the end of the first quarter.

Much of this was due to the shooting of SM Northwest sophomore guard Damar’e Smith, who scored 17 points in the first half. It also didn’t help that the Firebirds turned the ball over six times in the first quarter.

“(Smith) hurt us last year too,” Stroh said. “With our guys, it’s a scouting report thing and I don’t think we did a very good job following the scouting report to start the game. But that’s what happens when good players make plays.”

That trend carried over to the second quarter for both teams, though, as neither side could hang on to the ball. Finally, Yoder hit another corner 3-pointer to right the ship for Free State and cut the lead to 17-15.

But the Cougars woke up too, going on a 7-2 run to extend their lead and regain momentum. The Firebirds fought back, but missed free throws and tough interior defense from SM Northwest made things difficult.

Free State did manage to stay afloat, trailing the Cougars 29-25 going into halftime.

Stroh didn’t share any specifics, but he said the Firebirds received his halftime message “loud and clear.”

The beginning of the second half was dictated by two players who combined for 1 point in the first half — SM Northwest senior guard Ty Lindenman and Free State sophomore guard Mozae Downing. After an assist and corner 3 from Lindenman, layups from Downing and Piper tied the game at 31-31.

But the Cougars held off Free State just enough to take a 39-35 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Free State finally regained the lead with a third-chance layup from Middleton, to put the Firebirds up 40-39.

As the game rolled on, Stroh reminded his players of a drill they do each day in practice. In the drill, Stroh puts the varsity team down 10 and has them play their way out of the hole.

“And all week long, they come out of that hole in the drill that we do with time to score,” Stroh said. “That’s what we had to do tonight. We had to find a way to dig out of that hole and (we were) fortunate enough to make enough free throws and plays to win the game.”

And despite trading baskets down the stretch with the Cougars, the Firebirds made enough free throws late and held on for the narrow win.

“In the league, every night is going to be a challenge,” Stroh said. “Anyone can win on any given night and I think our guys expected to win. But we didn’t act like it when the ball was tipped. It’s a long way to go and these next two weeks will be fun for us to get better.”

After a short break, Free State will next play Shawnee Mission South at home on Jan. 7.

Free State (54)

Andrew Piper 4-6 3-3 11, DK Middleton 4-9 3-7 11, Mozae Downing 4-10 2-4 10, Olin Yoder 2-5 0-0 6, Dash Hawkins 1-2 3-5 5, Ethan Lincoln 0-3 3-6 3, Wyatt Durland 1-2 0-0 3, Tate Fanshier 1-1 0-1 2, Kris Daniels 1-1 0-0 2, Camden Spano-Lund 0-0 1-2 1, Jailen Thompson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-40 15-28 54.

Shawnee Mission Northwest (51)

Damar’e Smith 6-12 6-8 22, Ty Blecha 3-7 0-0 7, Landon Wagler 2-7 2-2 7, Ty Lindenman 2-3 1-2 6, Logan Skeens 1-4 0-0 3, Callan Taylor 1-1 0-0 2, Brennan McEniry 1-4 0-0 2, Isaiah Volavongsa 0-3 0-1 0. Totals 17-46 9-13 51.

Free State 12 13 10 19 — 54

Shawnee Mission Northwest 17 12 10 12 — 51

3-point field goals: Free State 3-12 (Yoder, Durland); Shawnee Mission Northwest 8-27 (Smith, Blecha, Skeens, Lindenman, Wagler). Turnovers: Free State 10, Shawnee Mission Northwest 10.


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