Missed shots leads to tough loss as Free State falls to Olathe Northwest 42-31

Free State coach Nick Wood talks to his team during a timeout. Free State fell to Olathe Northwest 42-31 on Monday, Jan. 20.

Olathe — Sometimes shots just don’t fall, and that’s exactly what happened to Free State as the Firebirds fell to Olathe Northwest 42-31 Monday night.

“We struggled to score offensively in the second half,” Free State coach Nick Wood said. “And we knew it was going to be a tough game. In the second half, unfortunately, we couldn’t get our shots to fall. And they made a few more plays than we did.”

Initially, Free State (4-5, 1-3 Sunflower League) imposed its will on Olathe Northwest (6-4,1-4 Sunflower League) defensively. The Firebirds ended the first quarter up 11-6 thanks to an aggressive press and getting the ball inside.

It was a bit of a different story in the second quarter, though, as Free State got a little sped up.

There are plenty of ways to describe the second quarter, although maybe the best way would be good enough. Free State certainly started off on the wrong foot — Olathe Northwest went on an 8-3 run to take the lead — and the Firebirds were disjointed offensively.

Naturally, this forced Wood to call a timeout to regroup and slow things down for a second.

That seemed to do the trick for the Firebirds, especially junior guard Evy Harrell and junior forward Shannon Clarke. With just over a minute to go, Clarke swatted a baseline layup attempt from Olathe Northwest to keep the game tied 16-16.

“We were getting up and down the floor pretty well and both teams were taking their turn throwing punches,” Wood said. “That second quarter was good basketball on both ends and we felt really good going into halftime.”

And while Harrell fouled Olathe Northwest senior guard Riley Wade with 19 seconds left — giving the Ravens an 18-16 lead with two free throws — Harrell redeemed herself with a corner 3-pointer to end the half. After the emotional roller coaster of a quarter, Free State was up 19-18 at halftime.

Coming out of the break, it was still a bumpy ride for the Firebirds. There were more turnovers and some missed layups. This forced another Free State timeout with the Firebirds trailing 24-23 with just under three minutes left in the third quarter.

“Every possession was going to be important and we knew that,” Wood said. “In the end, we just have to find ways to work on getting better offensively and we will.”

The defense kept Free State in it, but once Olathe Northwest started hitting 3-pointers, the Ravens were able to take a 30-25 lead at the end of the third quarter.

The rest of the game was a bit of a slugfest. Olathe Northwest didn’t hit its first field goal until 2:05 to play, yet the Ravens were still up 34-29. But once Free State got into desperation mode, Olathe Northwest hit enough free throws to hang on for the win.

With reliable players like senior guard Caely Kesten and junior forward Shannon Clarke struggling, Wood said he emphasized a positive mindset. Not just for the duo, but the entire team.

“It gets hard when all of a sudden you’re not making shots,” Wood said. “All of a sudden it feels like there’s a bunch of weight on your shoulders and that’s what we talked about. It was just one of those nights where it didn’t work out for us.”

“The message is stay together and we’ll continue to get better individually,” Wood said. “We’ll continue to get better as a group. We’ve still got a whole lot of basketball ahead of us, and our best basketball is ahead of us.”

Free State will next play at its home tournament starting on Jan. 30.

Free State (31)

Shannon Clarke 3-15 4-4 10, Caely Kesten 3-9 3-4 9, Evy Harrell 3-6 0-0 7, Daeci Jaillite-Walker 0-3 2-2 2, Joy Nunoo 1-1 0-0 2, Robin Todd 0-0 1-2 1, Nyasha McVay 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 10-36 10-12 31.

Olathe Northwest (42)

Mary Reiber 6-8 4-4 17, Riley Wade 2-6 3-5 9, Liz Thomas 2-6 2-2 7, Holly McCormick 1-6 1-2 4, Manika Taddese 0-0 2-2 2, Bre Geary 1-2 0-0 2, Joan Reiber 0-1 1-4 1. Totals 12-29 13-19 42.

Free State 11 8 6 6 — 31

Olathe Northwest 6 12 12 12 — 42

3-point field goals: Free State 1-10 (Harrell); Olathe Northwest 5-15 (Mary Reiber, Thomas, Wade, McCormick). Turnovers: Free State 18, Olathe Northwest 12.

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