Mozae Downing sets assist record in Free State’s 77-59 win over Shawnee Heights

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State junior Mozae Downing (2) passes the ball by Shawnee Heights defender Isiah Johnson (3) to start the offense in the first quarter during a game Wednesday night at FSHS on Jan. 27, 2021. Downing delivered 10 assists in the 77-59 win for the Firebirds.

Junior point guard Mozae Downing didn’t end up finishing in double figures Wednesday night like three of his fellow starters, but he arguably made the biggest impact in Free State’s 77-59 home win over Shawnee Heights.

Downing, who finished with 7 points, served as the facilitator behind the Firebirds’ high-powered offense in their latest victory. FSHS (9-2, No. 5 in Class 6A) made 33 shots from the floor in what was the team’s second-highest point total of the year.

Yet the offense really ran through Downing, who delivered pinpoint passes all night to ultimately dissect the Shawnee Heights (4-5) zone defense to pieces.

“We go as Mo goes,” FSHS head coach Sam Stroh said. “He’s our leader, our captain and our point guard. I thought he did a good job distributing the ball tonight, and I thought his defense was pretty good.”

Downing finished with 11 assists on the night in the win, per the FSHS coaching staff on Thursday. The reason why the clarification was important is because a record was on the line.

According to the FSHS record books, the previous milestone for most assists in a single game is 10. It is a record that had stood for 15 years, since Nick Devin accomplished the feat on March 2, 2006.

But that record now belongs to Downing, who agreed that Wednesday night was his best performance as a passer during his illustrious career.

“A lot of stuff was open,” Downing said. “I was just waiting and being patient.”

Thanks to Downing’s services as the facilitator, Free State had another balanced attack on the offensive end.

Sophomore Jailen Thompson led the team with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Senior Andrew Piper and junior Cooper Jackson each finished with 13 points and went for a combined 11-for-15 from the floor. Senior guard Kris Daniels tallied 7 points as well.

It was the type of bounce-back performance that the Firebirds needed after having their seven-game win streak snapped on Saturday with a 57-43 loss to St. James Academy.

“We definitely felt like we had something to prove this game,” Downing said. “We just needed to get back on track.”

Downing helped Free State return to the win column by providing an impact on both ends of the floor. He was asked to battle in the post with 6-foot-1 senior Harvey Daniels, and he rose to that challenge all night.

Midway through the first quarter, Downing swatted a layup attempt by Harvey in the lane. On the other end, Downing followed that up by scoring on an offensive rebound, in which he leaped above everyone to net a layup off the glass.

On the ensuing trip by the Thunderbirds, Downing poked the ball free to come up with the steal. He then scored off his own turnover via a layup in transition, giving FSHS a 10-8 lead with 3:30 left to play in the first quarter.

The Firebirds had the lead for the rest of the night after that. It was the type of sequence that has become expected for Downing, who has been a starter since his freshman year. He’s now the leader of the team, and it has consistently shown up in every phase of the game.

“Now he’s expected to lead us,” Stroh said. “He’s done a great job doing the right thing on and off the court.”

It is a position that Downing has happily embraced this season, despite the uniqueness of playing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had to take on a different role and be more of a leader,” Downing said. “We have a lot of different types of players this year and we really work together. Our chemistry is really there.”

That leadership doesn’t always translate to box score stats for Downing, but it did against Shawnee Heights on Wednesday.

Downing completely took over the game during the final five-minute stretch of the first half. He was credited with an assist on six consecutive baskets by Free State over that span, starting with Thompson’s field goal with 4:41 left in the first half.

He followed that up with an assist on a bucket by Daniels a minute later. Shortly after, Downing found an open Isaac Gonzales for a 3-pointer on an inbound pass from under the basket. Downing also delivered back-to-back dimes to Piper and Thompson at one point.

To end the first half, Free State held the ball for 30-plus seconds for one last shot at the buzzer. Downing dribbled the ball from midcourt to the right wing, and Jackson slipped on the screen along the perimeter.

Downing dribbled to the top of the key before firing a pass to Jackson, who knocked down a triple at the buzzer to give Free State a 41-28 lead at the break.

“They kept helping off and we have a lot of shooters,” Downing said. “So we got them up for shots.”

The damage was basically done after that, though Downing continued to add to his assist total in the second half. He admitted that his favorite assist of the night was on a pass to Piper in the lane during the third quarter.

Piper scored seven of 13 points in the fourth quarter to help FSHS ultimately pull away for good. Free State’s starters were able to sit on the bench for the final three minutes, while reserves Dash Cleveland and Dre Daniels each drilled a 3-pointer to close the game out.

“It was a good bounce-back for us,” Stroh said. “It was an ugly Saturday night for us. We’ve kind of been an inconsistent team from game-to-game and I thought tonight they put it together. We will see if we can do it again Friday.”

Free State will travel to Mill Valley at 7 p.m. Friday.

Shawnee Heights (59)

Nathan Pewe 4-5 3-3 12, Isiah Johnson 4-13 0-0 12, Jarin Sanders 1-4 0-0 3, Andrew Rantz 1-1 0-0 3, Harvey Davis 2-10 2-4 6, Brent Showalter 5-9 0-0 13, Jaye’Son Jones 1-3 3-4 5, Brennon Dodge 1-2 2-2 5. Totals: 19-47 FG 10-13 FT 59 points.

Free State (77)

Kris Daniels 3-7 0-1 7, Mozae Downing 3-5 1-1 7, Jailen Thompson 7-10 0-2 14, Andrew Piper 6-7 1-1 13, Cooper Jackson 5-8 1-2 13, Isaac Gonzales 3-7 0-0 8, Cole Wheeler 1-4 0-0 2, Dash Cleveland 3-5 0-0 8, Hobbs Herlihy 1-2 0-0 2, Dre Daniels 1-1 0-0 3, Justin Hicks 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 33-57 FG 3-7 FT 77 points.

Shawnee Hts 14 14 16 15 — 59

Free State 19 22 11 25 — 77

3-point goals: SH 11-21 (Johnson 4, Pewe, Sanders, Rantz, Showalter 3, Dodge); FS 8-21 (Jackson 2, Gonzales 2, Cleveland 2, Kris Daniels, Dre Daniels). Turnovers: SH 5; FS 4. Fouled out: None.


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