Firebird fun: FSHS boys cruise past SM East for 60-47 win behind 22-0 run

photo by: Nick Krug

Free State's Mozae Downing roars during a run by the Firebirds against Shawnee Mission East during the second half, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 at Free State High School.

Midway through its 60-47 home win over Shawnee Mission East on Friday, the Free State boys basketball team went on an enormous run of unanswered points — a run so big that some of the players who contributed to it were shocked to hear about it afterward.

The Firebirds scored 22 unanswered points in the run, which straddled the second and third quarters of the game. Junior Cooper Jackson had the honor of capping it off in style with a 3-pointer.

“I didn’t even know we had a 22-0 run; that’s crazy,” Jackson said after the game. “Everybody was just getting into it. Coach gave us a good pregame talk and got us excited for the game. We just wanted to win.”

Shawnee Mission East (5-3) called a timeout to stop the bleeding afterward, but the damage had already been done. Free State (8-1, No. 5 in Class 6A) had complete control of the contest, holding a 41-22 advantage.

The big run came after there were eight lead changes within the first 15 minutes of the game. And it basically locked up Free State’s seventh win in a row.

Free State coach Sam Stroh said his players weren’t thinking about a win streak or what was at stake against a Sunflower League opponent when they went on the run. They were just playing basketball, and having a lot of fun while doing so.

“We fed off making shots, which is easy to do,” Stroh said. “They are a fun group to be around. They like to have a good time … and they have lots of energy.”

Junior guard Dash Cleveland started off the 22-0 run with a contested triple at the 3:30 mark in the second quarter, which evened the score up at 22-all. Moments later, senior guard Kris Daniels buried a triple from the left corner to take a lead that the Firebirds wouldn’t relinquish.

After that, the entire team played with a ton of energy and everybody was getting into it.

Junior guard Mozae Downing delivered back-to-back assists on buckets by senior Andrew Piper and junior Isaac Gonzales (3-pointer) to end the first half on an 11-0 run. It gave the Firebirds a 30-22 advantage at the break, but they didn’t let up there.

In the third quarter, Free State’s defense led to big plays on the offensive end. Jackson managed to draw a charge on Shawnee Mission East senior Preston Reynolds at the 5:06 mark in the third quarter, sending the 6-foot-4 post to the bench with four fouls. Daniels also forced a traveling violation with great ball pressure on the perimeter.

Sophomore Jailen Thompson managed to get in a passing lane to come up with a steal. He then went down on the other end to finish off the sequence with a slam. One possession later, Thompson followed his own miss and scored on a putback.

“Everybody was feeding off the energy, especially the bench,” said Thompson, who led FSHS with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting. “When the bench gets involved and they put in energy and we hear them clapping, that gives us more energy on the court to play.”

It was the type of performance that Free State needed after escaping Blue Valley West with a 47-46 road win the night before. Daniels made a game-sealing steal with the game on the line, but the Firebirds didn’t think it should have come to that after they led by double digits after three quarters.

“We had a much better night tonight than we did last night,” Stroh said. “We had a good talk after the game, and we had a good walkthrough this afternoon after school.”

There was little drama in Friday’s matchup, even though Shawnee Mission East junior Patrick Bergkamp connected on three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. FSHS always led by at least 11 in the final period.

Cleveland, who scored the final bucket of the night, finished with 11 points. Piper had 9 points, and Daniels and Downing finished with 8 apiece. Gonzales knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to end up with 6 points.

“That’s kind of who we are,” Stroh said of the balance. “We don’t have a guy that we rely on to score 20 to 25 points per night. Everyone chips in their points, which makes you harder to defend sometimes. I liked the way we (played), and any guy can lead us in scoring on any given night.”

That recipe of balanced scoring and dominant team defense seems to be working for the Firebirds, who haven’t lost a game since Dec. 5. Free State will travel to St. James Academy at 7 p.m. tonight for its third game in as many nights to complete this week’s round robin event.

SM East (47)

Emmett Hill 1-5 2-2 4, Dillon Mong 3-9 0-0 8, Patrick Bergkamp 4-5 0-0 11, Preston Reynolds 3-7 2-2 8, Will Townsend 2-7 0-2 5, Charlie Sublette 2-9 0-0 5, Marcus Meeks 0-1 0-0 0, Spencer Blacketer 2-4 0-0 6. Totals: 17-47 FG 4-6 FT 47 points.

Free State (60)

Kris Daniels 3-8 0-0 8, Mozae Downing 3-7 1-2 8, Jailen Thompson 5-11 3-4 13, Andrew Piper 3-6 3-4 9, Cooper Jackson 2-2 0-0 5, Dash Cleveland 5-6 0-0 11, Cole Wheeler 0-2 0-1 0, Isaac Gonzales 2-3 0-0 6. Totals: 23-45 FG 7-11 FT 60 points.

SM East 12 10 7 18 — 47

Free State 12 18 14 16 — 60

3-point goals: SME 9-25 (Bergkamp 3, Mong 2, Townsend, Sublette, Blacketer 2); FSHS 7-13 (Daniels 2, Downing, Jackson, Cleveland, Gonzales 2). Turnovers: SME 8; FSHS 7. Fouled out: None.


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