Free State boys basketball escapes with 66-63 road win over Olathe North

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State's Andrew Piper (20) shoots a hook shot over Shawnee Mission South's Max Close (30) during a Jan. 7 game in Lawrence.

Olathe — Looking to regain momentum in the fourth quarter, Free State senior guard Ethan Lincoln shot another corner 3-pointer. But as Lincoln missed — causing a scrum for the rebound — junior center Andrew Piper came up with the ball once again for a tough, and necessary, layup.

“He was rolling,” Free State coach Sam Stroh said of Piper. “He had his baby hook working and he gets great angles. He’s not going to wow you with his athleticism, but he knows how to play the game and he plays it the right way.”

Thanks to that kind of second effort from Piper and his teammates, Free State (5-2, 3-0 Sunflower League) escaped with a 66-63 victory over Olathe North (4-4, 3-1 Sunflower League) Tuesday. Piper led the way with 23 points.

“We knew it was going to be a 32-minute game in the league against a good team,” Stroh said. “It was a team win.”

Free State got off on the wrong foot thanks to two quick turnovers, which allowed Olathe North to get out in transition for some easy baskets. However, the Firebirds managed to slow down and get the ball back in the paint.

And the result was a much more effective offense thanks to the one-two punch of sophomore guard Mozae Downing and junior center Andrew Piper. Piper scored 8 points in the first quarter as he was able to find some space inside.

Thanks to Piper and help off the bench from senior guard Wyatt Durland and junior forward Miles Branch, Free State held a 19-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.

But Olathe North came back swinging in the second quarter, especially Eagles senior guard KT Raimey who repeatedly drove right through the Firebirds’ defense in transition.

“KT’s a great player and he’s so tough to guard too because he’s so good at getting to the basket, but also he avoids charges very well,” Stroh said.

A key moment in transition was when Free State senior guard Olin Yoder was called for an intentional foul near the end of the quarter. Yoder reached out to stop Raimey on a fast break, which gave Olathe North an extra possession.

“He’s probably a half-step too slow,” Stroh said, “which it would have been a good play, but it was intentional. Olin’s a smart kid and he won’t make that mistake twice.”

This sparked a 6-0 run from Olathe North, but Free State was able to once again adjust on the fly. Yoder hit a pair of 3-pointers and Piper added a couple more layups to give the Firebirds a 32-26 lead at halftime.

Coming out of the break, Free State extended the lead to 36-26 and seemed prepared to make a serious run. However, Olathe North woke back up for a 10-2 run of its own, cutting the lead to 38-36 midway through the third quarter and forced a Free State timeout.

The Firebirds found a spark in the form of Downing, Piper and Branch trio, as well as senior guard DK Middleton adding a couple layups. Free State had a 50-40 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

There was also a scary moment in the third quarter when Downing limped off the court with an apparent ankle injury after landing on another player’s someone’s foot.

“It looks day-to-day, but you never know,” Stroh said. “But we’ve got a couple days to rest him up. We’ll see what happens to Mo in the long-term, but Wyatt played a heck of a game to finish that game off.”

Later, Olathe North fought back, cutting the lead to 57-54 midway through the fourth quarter. The tug of war commenced, as Olathe North just wouldn’t go away and Free State continued to cling to the lead.

Whenever Free State seemed to pull away, the Eagles would respond with a basket, even cutting the lead to 66-63 with less than 30 seconds left. However, two late 3-point attempts from Olathe North missed in the final seconds and Free State held on for the win.

“As a team, I think we sometimes play better on the road,” Stroh said. “Before the game I told the guys we haven’t scored more than 60 points all season. And we had to get to 60 to win this.”

Free State will next face Olathe Northwest on the road on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Free State (66)

Andrew Piper 11-14 1-2 23, Olin Yoder 3-7 2-3 10, Mozae Downing 4-9 1-3 9, Miles Branch 3-7 0-1 6, DK Middleton 2-3 1-3 5, Wyatt Durland 2-3 0-0 5, Ethan Lincoln 1-4 0-0 3, Dash Hawkins 0-1 3-4 3, Kris Daniels 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-50 8-16 66.

Olathe North (63)

KT Raimey 8-15 7-9 25, Syl Union 5-11 2-4 12, Donnyae Ferguson 5-7 1-2 11, Koi Jackson 4-12 0-0 9, Quinten Mason 2-4 0-0 6, Braedyn Meyer 0-2 0-0 0, Karthik Kasarabada 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-52, 10-15 63.

Free State 19 13 18 16 — 66

Olathe North 12 14 14 23 — 63

3-point field goals: Free State 4-15 (Yoder, Durland, Lincoln); Olathe North 5-18 (Raimey, Mason, Jackson). Turnovers: Free State 10, Olathe North 8.

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