Free State boys hold off Shawnee Mission South in home opener

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State's Mozae Downing (2) claps during a home game against Shawnee Mission South on Jan. 7.

A sequence late in the third quarter was all Free State’s boys basketball team needed to win its home opener.

For three-plus quarters, there was little separation between Shawnee Mission South and Free State in a low-scoring affair between Sunflower League foes. All of that changed in a matter of two minutes, however.

A timely triple and back-to-back transition dunks by senior DK Middleton proved to be pivotal for the Firebirds in an eventual 51-42 win over the Raiders Tuesday night at FSHS.

“We are kind of a funny group right now,” Free State coach Sam Stroh said. “But we are getting better. Hopefully by the end of February we are looking better than we did tonight. A win is a win, and we will take it and move on to the next one.”

The 3-pointer was thanks to junior Kris Daniels on a precise pass from sophomore point guard Mozae Rivers-Downing. Daniels drilled the 3-pointer from the left wing, which gave FSHS a 29-23 lead at the 3:34 mark in the third quarter.

Middleton then delivered consecutive slams off turnovers to really get Free State’s crowd into the game. The first came with 2:38 left, and was a powerful dunk down the middle of the lane. Middleton’s second slam, which came with 1:46 left in the third period, was from the baseline off a careless turnover by Shawnee Mission South.

“That’s how DK has to play the rest of the season,” Stroh said. “He’s our senior and is our returning leader.”

That brief 8-0 run by the Firebirds (5-1, 2-0 Sunflower League) gave the hosts a 33-23 advantage. And it felt bigger than normal, considering how well both teams played on the defensive end all night.

Free State took a 35-26 advantage into the final period, though Shawnee Mission South (0-5, 0-3) made things interesting by pulling within 3 points with 2:14 left to play. Sophomore Dash Hawkins, senior Ethan Lincoln and Downing hit a combined six free throws to help the Firebirds hang on. Hawkins also registered a transition layup in the final minute.

“This team just likes to keep it interesting, keep the fans around I guess,” Stroh said. “Hopefully we will learn from it and get better.”

Middleton led the way for Free State, scoring 17 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the floor. He went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line. Junior Andrew Piper joined him in double figures by going 4-of-7 to finish with 10 points.

Free State has now won four games in a row since falling to Manhattan High in the semifinals of the Hays City Shootout. The Firebirds have held their opponents under 50 points in four of their six games to start the season.

“I thought our defense was pretty solid tonight,” Stroh said. “We took away their drives and we took away some of their shooters, and that was the goal.”

Free State will play host to Gardner-Edgerton at 7 p.m. Friday.


Erik Smith 0-4 4-4 4, Ike McLey 1-3 1-2 3, Jack Webb 1-4 0-0 3, Blake Potthoff 3-7 0-0 7, Max Close 7-11 2-5 16, Andrew Brewer 2-4 0-0 4, Miles McKenna 0-1 0-0 0, Hayden Polen 0-1 0-0 0, Harrison Hughes 2-2 0-0 5. Totals: 16-37 7-11 42.


Mozae Rivers-Downing 0-5 6-9 6, Ethan Lincoln 2-2 2-2 7, DK Middleton 4-11 8-10 17, Andrew Piper 4-7 2-2 10, Olin Yoder 0-2 0-0 0, Miles Branch 0-4 0-0 0, Dash Hawkins 1-2 4-6 6, Kris Daniels 2-3 0-0 5. Totals: 13-36 22-29 51.

SM South 8 11 7 16 — 42

Free State 8 14 13 16 — 51

3-point goals: SMS 3-9 (Webb, Potthoff, Hughes; FSHS 3-9 (Lincoln, Middleton, Daniels). Turnovers: SMS 12; FSHS 9.


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