Depth on display in Free State’s 63-45 win over Shawnee Mission North

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State senior DK Middleton (10) goes for the reverse layup by SM North defender Miles Cole (30) on Tuesday night at FSHS on Feb. 18, 2020.

It is not always easy to dig deep into the bench at this point in the season, especially during a grinding league battle. Fortunately for FSHS boys basketball coach Sam Stroh, he doesn’t have that issue.

Free State needed a total-team effort to push past Shawnee Mission North, 63-45, on Tuesday night at FSHS. Ten players scored, and even more made an impact on both ends of the floor, to help the Firebirds (13-4, 8-1 Sunflower League) win their fourth game in a row.

“I thought it was a good team win,” FSHS coach Sam Stroh said. “Kris Daniels, Dash (Hawkins), Alyus (Wisdom), Miles (Branch) have all given us great minutes off the bench the last few games. Any of them could probably start; we just like our rotation right now. As coaches, it gives us a luxury.”

Tuesday’s lopsided win is a sign that Free State (No. 6 in Class 6A) might be peaking at the right time with postseason play looming, especially if Stroh can trust as many of his players in an important game. And that depth was on full display from the very beginning.

Free State eventually used 13 players, which included one reserve in the final minute, to hand SM North (3-9, 2-5 Sunflower League) the loss. Eleven players actually appeared in the opening period, when the Firebirds jumped out to a 14-8 advantage.

A multitude of players made an impact from the start. Senior Olin Yoder, who poured in a team-high 13 points, connected on a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter. Senior Ethan Lincoln, senior DK Middleton, junior Miles Branch and junior Kris Daniels all notched a basket in the first frame to help Free State play in front for the whole night.

With sophomore point guard Mozae Downing-Rivers picking up a pair of early fouls, senior Wyatt Durland shouldered the role as the facilitator for much of the opening period. Sophomore Isaac Gonzales even played a few possessions, when Durland had to go to the bench.

“Most teams are playing six or seven guys; we have 11 or 12 guys that can really play,” Lincoln said. “I was in the same position last year coming off the bench. You get a different perspective. You can see who is playing well and what their tendencies are, and it gives you a step ahead.”

Even more players played a part in Free State’s 10-0 spurt to start the second period, giving the hosts all the momentum. Branch, who finished with 12 points and controlled the glass off the bench, recorded 4 points during that stretch.

Middleton, who finished with 10 points, tallied a layup off an assist by Durland. Yet it was only made possible by Hawkins setting things up with a steal. Junior Andrew Piper and senior Tate Fanshier also made their presence felt on the defensive end for the Firebirds, who held the opposition to a 7 of 23 effort from the floor in the first half.

It all helped Free State grab a comfortable 30-19 advantage at the intermission.

“It’s fun to see all my friends and teammates do well,” Middleton said. “We have all contributed since the season started.”

That total-team effort continued in the second half, especially when SM North pulled within 7 late in the third quarter.

Free State promptly responded with an 8-0 run to close the third quarter, and then proceeded to score 6 of the first 8 points in the fourth quarter. The Indians never really had a shot after that.

Now, the Firebirds will turn their attention to an important rivalry matchup that has postseason seeding implications. Free State will face Lawrence High at 8 p.m. Friday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Shawnee Mission North (45)

Zach Nelson 3-14 2-2 8, Darion Holland 2-4 0-0 6, Ethan Salvino 1-1 0-0 2, Logan Oberle 3-11 1-3 8, Mike Harris 4-7 2-3 10, Miles Cole 3-61-2 8, Johnny Macan 1-1 0-0 3, Jayden Vazzano 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 17-45 6-10 45.

Free State (63)

Mozae Downing-Rivers 2-3 2-2 6, Ethan Lincoln 3-5 0-0 6, DK Middleton 3-7 4-4 10, Andrew Piper 2-4 0-0 4, Olin Yoder 4-5 2-2 13, Wyatt Durland 0-1 0-1 0, Miles Branch 4-9 4-6 12, Kris Daniels 1-5 0-0 2, Tate Fanshier 3-3 0-1 6, Alyus Wisdom 1-1 0-0 2, Isaac Gonzales 0-0 0-0 0, Dash Hawkins 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 24-44 12-16 63.

SM North 8 11 12 14 — 45

Free State 14 16 16 17 — 63

3-point goals: SMN 5-16 (Holland 2, Oberle, Cole, Macan); FS 3-10 (Yoder 3). Turnovers: SMN 5; FS 6. Fouled out: None.


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