Free State boys rally but fall to St. James in McPherson semis

The Free State boys basketball team fell just short against St James Academy Friday night, losing 60-58 in the second round of the McPherson Invitational Basketball Tournament at McPherson High.

Despite a late comeback attempt by FSHS led by Will Mlynek and Jailen Thompson, the Firebirds (6-3) could not outlast the Thunder (9-2), who made several key free throws down the stretch to hang on and advance to the championship round Saturday night.

“They played through it and we’re happy with overall play,” FSHS coach Sherron Collins said. “We just told them tonight that we have to move on and no one needs to hang their heads because they played really well.”

Both teams started out fast and remained that way through the opening eight minutes, with the score tied at 17 heading into the second quarter.

The Firebirds delivered a small scoring run into the second, and led 21-17 just moments into the period, but the Thunder came roaring back and took a 23-21 lead.

St James kept its foot on the gas for the remainder of the first half and hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final moments of the quarter, extending the lead to 30-23 at halftime.

“We touched on how big it is to close out the halves,” Collins said. “The two 3s at the end of the first half hurt our momentum. We have to turn this game into a positive.”

The Thunder took a double-digit lead early in the third quarter, but the Firebirds stormed back and cut the St James lead to just four with three minutes remaining in the period.

The Firebirds eventually tied the game up at 45 entering the fourth quarter, and the momentum transitioned to FSHS with eight minutes left to play.

But St James opened the final quarter on a 7-0 run in the first 90 seconds, with aggressive drives and physical rebounding allowing St. James to regain control.

FSHS cut the lead to 55-54 after several clutch baskets with 3:43 left in the fourth.

The teams traded baskets during the next few minutes, and Free State had several chances to tie the game or take the lead late. But the St. James defense answered the call with the game on the line, getting a stop in the final seconds to close out the victory.

Next up, Free State will play the loser of Friday night’s Manhattan-McPherson matchup at 5 p.m. on Saturday night in the third-place game.


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