Free State holds on for ‘strange’ win over Olathe Northwest 52-48

Free State senior guard DK Middleton (10) and Olathe Northwest senior guard Jake Waters (20) jump for the opening tipoff. Free State defeated Olathe NW 52-48 on Monday, Jan. 20.

Olathe — Free State coach Sam Stroh says his team always knows how to make games interesting, but Monday night was still a bit odd.

“That was kind of a weird game with no school on a Monday,” Stroh said. “I was proud of our kids that we found a way to win, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot to learn from this game.”

The game was rescheduled from last Friday due to inclement weather, throwing the schedule slightly off. And while Free State (6-2, 4-0 Sunflower League) responded with a 52-48 win over Olathe Northwest (3-6, 1-5 Sunflower League), it was far from a perfect game, especially with 18 turnovers.

“I thought we had kind of solved that problem the last few games, to be honest,” Stroh said. “But it definitely crept up again tonight. We struggled a little bit handling their pressure in their 1-3-1 (defense).”

Even with sophomore guard Mozae Downing out with an ankle injury, Free State still came out strong to start with senior guard Wyatt Durland running point. A big part of that was hitting outside shots early, with senior guard Olin Yoder hitting a trio of corner 3-pointers in the first quarter.

Free State jumped out to an early 11-6 lead, forcing a timeout from Olathe Northwest. While the Firebirds aren’t necessarily known for being consistent outside shooters, Yoder has been a reliable option.

However, the Ravens stormed back to cut the lead to 14-13 at the end of the first quarter thanks to senior guards Jon Lindsay and Jake Waters.

That back-and-forth trend would continue into the second quarter as Free State started on a 6-0 run, and Olathe Northwest matched that with a 6-0 run of its own. This was a chance for the Firebirds to really stretch the lead, but unforced errors continued to plague Free State.

There was also a lingering issue with the slow pace of Olathe Northwest, who at times took 45 or 50 seconds in one possession.

“They take their time on offense,” Stroh said. “Sometimes they’d score, sometimes they didn’t. And sometimes that’s frustrating as a defense when you play defense (that long) and score.”

While Stroh thought the Firebirds’ pace was fine for the majority of the game, but got tight down the stretch.

“Sometimes that happens,” Stroh said. “It’s a good learning experience, especially without Mo out there. He’s normally kind of running the show at the 1.”

The Firebirds committed seven turnovers in the quarter in a variety of ways, including charges, errant passes and a couple of travels. But senior guard DK Middleton made up for it with a pair of steals leading to two easy baskets in transition.

What also helped was the Ravens missing shots, which came from either Free State blocking shots or Olathe Northwest having an off night, at least in the first half. The Ravens shot 8-of-24 and 1-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half, but only turned the ball over twice.

So while it wasn’t pretty, Free State held a 27-19 lead at halftime.

The Firebirds controlled the majority of the third quarter, going up by as much as 12 points. And with junior center Andrew Piper and Middleton in foul trouble, this was a great opportunity to utilize the Firebirds’ bench — particularly junior guard Kris Daniels, senior forward Alyus Wisdom and sophomore guard Isaac Gonzales.

“I challenged them, ‘Hey, if you’re giving us two minutes or 20 minutes, give us something positive,'” Stroh said. “It was just kind of a strange game with foul trouble and rotation and backup point guards in.”

But the Ravens once again bounced back.

Three consecutive turnovers from Free State allowed Olathe Northwest back into the game as the Ravens cut the lead to 31-36. However, Daniels momentarily silenced the comeback with a corner 3-pointer and Free State held on for a 39-32 lead at the end of the third quarter.

But the Free State turnovers didn’t stop and Olathe Northwest got hot, going on a 10-1 run to start the fourth quarter. The Ravens took a 42-40 lead with just under five minutes to play, and the momentum had finally swung to Olathe Northwest.

Stroh called a timeout and told his players to just “calm down.”

“I challenged our seniors to figure some things out,” Stroh said. “They’ve only got a month and a half left of their career. We need to be more consistent if we want to get to where we want to go.”

Middleton was also playing with four fouls as Free State held onto a 47-46 lead with 1:48 to play. But the turnovers and missed opportunities finally hit Olathe Northwest as an errant pass, a missed layup and missed 3-pointer with under a minute to play sealed the win for Free State.

“It’s a road win in the league, we’ll take it and move on to McPherson,” Stroh said.

Free State will next play Junction City in the McPherson tournament on Thursday.

Free State (52)

DK Middleton 3-8 5-8 11, Olin Yoder 3-5 0-1 9, Andrew Piper 3-3 2-3 8, Kris Daniels 2-2 0-0 6, Ethan Lincoln 1-2 1-3 4, Miles Branch 2-2 0-0 4, Isaac Gonzales 1-1 0-0 3, Dash Hawkins 1-2 1-1 3, Alyus Wisdom 1-1 0-0 2, Wyatt Durland 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 17-27 11-18 52.

Olathe Northwest (48)

Jake Waters 4-8 4-4 12, Zaid Dajani 4-10 2-4 11, Jon Lindsay 2-8 5-6 10, Christian Carlstedt 2-4 0-0 6, Dee Goree 2-5 1-2 5, TJ Kinkade 2-4 0-2 4, Carter Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Ben Gutekunst 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-42, 12-18 48.

Free State 14 13 12 13 — 52

Olathe Northwest 13 6 13 16 — 48

3-point field goals: Free State 7-12 (Yoder, Lincoln, Gonzales, Daniels); Olathe Northwest 4-13 (Carlstedt, Lindsay, Dajani). Turnovers: Free State 18, Olathe Northwest 6.


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