Cooper Jackson, Firebirds deliver in OT, beat SME for 7th consecutive win
photo by: Chance Parker
Cooper Jackson’s scoring carried Free State High’s boys basketball team much of Friday night in a marquee Sunflower League battle with Shawnee Mission East.
But it was Jackson’s defense that put the Firebirds over the top in a 78-75 overtime victory at FSHS.
The Firebirds had just taken a one-point lead in OT following a basket by Mozae Downing when Jackson jumped a Lancers dribble handoff. The steal allowed FSHS to go up three in the final half-minute.
Jackson, a 6-foot junior, poured in 26 points and knocked down five 3-pointers on the night before making the clutch stop.
“Cooper was good. He was hitting shots. He always brings energy, and he did a good job defending,” head coach Sam Stroh said after the Firebirds, ranked No. 5 in Class 6A, won their seventh in a row and improved to 15-2.
Stroh also praised Jackson for bouncing back in OT after he missed both free throws on one trip to the foul line. In a pressure-packed game, Jackson made both on his next trip, late in the extra period.
“We’re definitely not in this game without him tonight,” Stroh said of Jackson.
The Lancers, ranked No. 7 in 6A, had a five-point lead with less than two minutes to play in OT. The Firebirds handled the situation with poise, though, following a timeout.
“I just told them we were in the same situation at the end of the fourth, we were down two possessions with a couple minutes to go,” Stroh shared. “We just needed to get to the free throw line or find an easy look.”
The coach didn’t draw up anything special out of the stoppage. Rather, FSHS relied on both Jackson and Downing. A 6-3 junior, Downing was responsible for all three of the team’s OT baskets and scored 13 points on the night.
Stroll said the duo “took over” down the stretch offensively, but the entire team showed its resolve throughout a challenging night, Free State’s second day in a stretch of three games in three days.
“The guys did a good job and dug in,” Stroh said, “and faced a little adversity, which was good, and responded well.”
FSHS had to outscore SME, 21-12, in the fourth quarter just to get to overtime. Dash Cleveland was instrumental in making that possible, putting up 10 of his 17 points in the fourth.
Stroh said the Firebirds’ press and energy picked up in the fourth as they rediscovered their composure.
“We were sped up a little bit in the third quarter,” Stroh said. “We were only down eight or nine, but our guys, I told them we were playing like we were down 25. We’d get a steal and we’d give it right back to them because we’d take a quick shot. We just needed to calm down.”
The coach thought FSHS started the night off great, but SME controlled the second quarter, 19-10.
“And then they punched us back and we didn’t respond very well until about the end of the third quarter, and the rest of the fourth and overtime,” Stroh said.
“Proud of the guys, though,” he continued. “We dug in and found a way to win, and that’s what you have to do in back to backs. And now we’re going to try and do it again (today).”
Free State travels today to play at 6A No. 5-ranked Shawnee Mission South at 4 p.m.
Free State 78, SM East 75
Free State (78)
Kris Daniels 0, Mozae Downing 13, Dash Cleveland 17, Jailen Thompson 9, Cole Wheeler 3, Andrew Piper 10, Cooper Jackson 26.
SM East (75)
Emmett Hill 17, Dillon Mong 9, Patrick Bergkamp 11, Charlie Sublette 4, Preston Reynolds 12, Will Townsend 22.
SME 15 19 22 12 7 — 75
FSHS 21 10 16 21 10 — 78
Three-point goals: SME 6 (Hill 2, Mong, Bergkamp, Reynolds, Townsend); FSHS 8 (Jackson 5, Cleveland 2, Wheeler). Fouled out: Hill, SME.