Despite a strong third quarter, Free State falls to Olathe North 68-44

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State's Shannon Clarke (3) makes a play around Shawnee Mission South's Lacy Whitcomb (11) during a Jan. 7 game in Lawrence.

Olathe — It didn’t take long for Olathe North to get going as the Eagles defeated Free State 68-44 Tuesday. Junior forward Shannon Clarke led the way for the Firebirds with 19 points.

“They’re one of the best teams in the state and they’ve got really good players,” Free State coach Nick Wood said. “And that’s just this league. So it’s our job to learn how to play at that high level because all these teams we’re going to play in the Sunflower League are really good.”

For Free State (4-4, 1-2 Sunflower League), it was a tough showing offensively as the Firebirds struggled to get much offensive rhythm early-on. And this played right into the hands of Olathe North (5-3, 3-2 Sunflower League), who wanted to get out into transition off every rebound and loose ball.

Some of those challenges came from tight officiating, according to Wood. That provided some difficulties for Free State defensively, and forced the Firebirds to adjust their guarding position.

“So we looked to go zone sometimes to save our fouls,” Wood said. “If the game is going to be called that way, we need to be able to adjust to it. We need to be able to learn how to guard that way without fouling.”

While outside shooting was a mixed bag — the Eagles shot 3-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half — Olathe North did the most damage getting the ball into the paint. When they weren’t running out in transition, it was a methodical approach, which led to an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Free State turned the ball over six times in the first quarter as the Firebirds weren’t quite all on the same page.

The Eagles kept this momentum going into the second quarter as Olathe North went on a quick 7-0 run to add to the lead. Free State ended the run with layups from Clarke and Daeci Jaillitte-Walker.

Regardless, Olathe North stayed in full control, as the Eagles rolled into halftime up 30-13 over the Firebirds.

The third quarter was a battle of forwards as Clarke and Olathe North senior forward Lele Love traded baskets down low. The Firebirds came out of the half fired up, aggressively jumping out to an 8-0 run, but the Eagles countered to keep the lead in the double-digits.

Free State managed to cut the lead to 47-34 at the end of the third quarter, but there was still plenty of work to be done. Clarke scored 11 points in the third quarter, while Love scored 12.

And Wood said that third quarter effort — where Free State scored a game-high 21 points — was one of the glimpses of this team’s potential, especially with the shift to an attacking mindset.

“In that third quarter they just came out and played basketball and attacked and were aggressive,” Wood said. “It was a beautiful thing to watch.”

Much of that came from spreading the floor and making sure everyone was in the correct spot to dish to a teammate or get an open look.

“It takes all five of us out there on the court to be successful,” Wood said. “Once everybody is attacking, and that means getting in the correct lanes and we’re penetrating and kicking and we’re attacking the basket.”

But things turned for the worse in the fourth quarter for the Firebirds as the Eagles started the fourth quarter on a 11-0 run to extend the lead back out to 58-34. And it was Olathe North the rest of the way as the Eagles rolled to victory.

“Throughout the game, although frustrating at times, there were really good glimpses of who we can be,” Wood said. “And they showed they have what it takes.”

Free State will next play Olathe Northwest on the road on Friday. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m.

Free State (44)

Shannon Clarke 9-15 0-1 19, Caely Kesten 3-9 1-1 8, Daeci Jaillite-Walker 2-7 0-1 4, Joy Nunoo 1-1 1-2 4, Mackenzie Moore 1-2 0-0 3, Evy Harrell 1-5 0-0 2, Nyasha McVay 1-2 0-0 2, Robin Todd 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 18-43 4-7 44.

Olathe North (68)

Lele Love 9-16 6-7 24, Sania Copeland 7-14 1-2 17, Rhaina Johnson 4-7 2-2 12, Yiibari Nwidadah 3-5 1-3 7, Ashlyn Alloway 2-4 1-2 5, Saniya Simmons 1-6 0-1 2, Abuk Yor 0-0 1-2 1, Breigh Bigelow 0-3 0-0 0, Olivia Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Tyrianna Stanford 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 12-19 68.

Free State 9 4 21 10 — 44

Olathe North 18 12 17 21 — 68

3-point field goals: Free State 4-18 (Clarke, Moore, Kesten, Nunoo); Olathe North 4-18 (Copeland, Johnson). Turnovers: Free State 23, Olathe North 9.

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