FSHS girls post lowest scoring output of season in 47-22 loss to SM West

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State senior Evy Harrell (0) looks for a teammate to pass to after becoming trapped by Shawnee Mission West's Taedyn Gray (23) during a game Friday night at FSHS on Jan. 29, 2021.

One night after scoring a season-high 72 points in a win over Topeka West, the Free State girls basketball team had its lowest-scoring night of the season in a 47-22 home loss to Shawnee Mission West.

The Vikings (7-1, No. 6 in Class 6A) are a matchup nightmare for most teams given their blend of superior length and athleticism. And the Firebirds (3-5) were no exception in their 25-point loss on Friday night.

“I think that’s probably the biggest and most athletic team in the Sunflower League,” first-year head coach Chris Linner said. “Anytime we did get any penetration, you go into the trees.”

Shawnee Mission West’s starting lineup featured 6-foot-4 senior Aiden Moxness and 6-foot-3 junior Taedyn Gray. Even sophomore wing S’mya Nichols was listed at 6 feet on the roster. Only one starter for Free State was 6 feet or taller — Shannon Clarke, who is listed at 6 feet even.

“We haven’t played a team like that,” Linner said. “We weren’t prepared for seeing that.”

It was evident from the start that Free State was overmatched. The Firebirds coughed up more turnovers (eight) than they had points scored (7) in the first quarter, when the Vikings jumped out to a 18-7 advantage.

FSHS had a solid start defensively, especially while employing a zone defense to keep Shawnee Mission West from getting in the paint. But the Vikings utilized a full-court pressure defense, and it often forced mistakes by the Firebirds.

Senior Anna McIntire gave Free State its first and only lead of the night on an and-one at the 5:14 mark in the first quarter. After that, Shawnee Mission West went on a 14-0 run to take control. Most of the scoring was off layups in transition via turnovers by FSHS.

“It takes a little while for us to wake up,” Linner said. “Obviously that’s something we need to change if we have hope moving forward playing against some of the better Sunflower League teams. We have to come out a lot faster.”

Free State finished with 21 turnovers, but the team did seem to settle in after the opening period.

The Firebirds’ zone defense made the Vikings work for their offensive production in a half-court setting. Gray led Shawnee Mission West with 12 points, but it took her nine shots to get there. Izzy Joyce and Nichols each finished with 11 points apiece for the visitors.

McIntire was a big reason for the positive moments by the FSHS defense. She battled in the paint and put her body on the line, despite not having the size advantage. Clarke and junior Kenzie Marcum also made an impact defensively in the post.

Sophomore forward Reese Hulcher delivered an impressive block in transition during the third quarter. And senior guard Evy Harrell recorded the best sequence of the night, when she stole the ball in the fourth quarter and dished a nifty assist to Marcum on the other end.

Linner said the zone defense was based on the matchup, but he liked what he saw from his team on that end of the floor given the circumstances.

“We’ve been changing defenses quite a bit,” Linner said. “It helped us stay in the game a little bit more.”

On the offensive end, Free State recently changed its philosophy to put more of an emphasis on attacking the rim. The Firebirds started doing that more recently in practice before they implemented it over their last two games.

It was a strategy that worked against Topeka West, when four players netted at least 9 points. Nobody reached that mark against Shawnee Mission West. Clarke led FSHS in scoring with 8 points.

“We are just figuring out our identity,” Linner said. “I think we have figured out that’s the way we need to go about our offense.”

Overall, though, this back-to-back stretch of games was important for the Firebirds. Thursday’s game revealed their potential, and Friday’s served as a reminder about how much room they still have to grow as a team.

“There are good things to take from that,” Linner said. “It is hard to play back-to-back nights in general. It’s definitely much harder when you have to go against one of the best teams in the state. But there are good things to take from it.

“I’m happy with what I saw,” Linner added. “I’m excited moving forward.”

Free State will host Olathe East at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

SM West (47)

Izzy Joyce 5-9 0-1 11, S’mya Nichols 2-6 6-8 11, CC Carter 2-5 0-0 4, Taedyn Gray 5-9 2-2 12, Aiden Moxness 3-5 0-0 6, Aaliyah Garcia 0-1 0-0 0, Kristen Wright 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 18-36 FG 8-11 FT 47 points.

Free State (22)

Evy Harrell 1-5 0-0 2, Shannon Clarke 4-15 0-2 8, Robin Todd 0-1 0-0 0, Daeci Walker 0-3 2-2 2, Anna McIntire 1-2 1-1 3, Kenzie Marcum 1-3 0-0 2, Mattie Smith 1-3 0-0 2, Thayu Kimori 1-3 0-0 3, Reese Hulcher 0-1 0-0 0, Myla Nover-Estes 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 9-37 FG 3-5 FT 22 points.

SM West 18 12 10 7 — 47

Free State 7 6 5 4 — 22

3-point goals: SMW 3-8 (Joyce, Nichols, Wright); FS 1-9 (Kimori). Turnovers: SMW 14; FS 21. Fouled out: None.

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