Sometimes all it takes is one half to flip the switch for the rest of the season.
McPherson High’s boys held a tenuous 30-29 halftime lead over Wichita Collegiate here Tuesday despite shooting 54 percent from the field against their much-taller opponent.
But the Bullpups came out in the second half with their most impressive 16 minutes of the year, outscoring the Spartans 22-10 and then put the jackhammer down in the fourth quarter with a 16-2 domination for a 68-41 victory.
It had to be a sense of relief for the Bullpups, now 9-4, to finish a game so strong after being involved in so many close, tense finishes.
The Bullpups currently are No. 7 in the Class 5A West standings and, of course, the teams with the best records at the end are awarded sub-state home games, unlike previous years where sub-states were pre-determined.
Ahead of MHS are Maize (13-0), Andover Central (12-1, but a team the Bullpups led by 7 at the half in an early season loss), Wichita Heights (13-2), Arkansas City (11-2), Salina Central (10-3) and Maize South (10-3).
Just behind the Bullpups is defending 5A champion Carroll (7-4), while Andover and Goddard Eisenhower are lurking just a game back in the loss column.
The Bullpups’ second half Tuesday was a thing of beauty. They appeared to be having more fun and joy in playing than they have in a long time. They played free, easy and loose, turning it over only 11 times and shooting 52 percent for the game.
The game also proved that Jake Alexander doesn’t have to shoulder the load and score 20 points for the Bullpups to win. He scored half that with 10, but three other players were in double figures.
Max Alexander, the sophomore point guard, was the best he’s ever been. He wasn’t trying to do too much, letting the game come to him instead of forcing the issue. In addition to his career-high 21 points, more impressive was how well he distributed the ball and was a thief on the defensive end with 3 steals and numerous deflections. When he plays that type of game, MHS’ stock rises.
Two traditional non-scorers, Jace Kinnamon and Seth Madron, combined for 28 points and made 12 of 13 shots. Kinnamon had a personal 12-point run, the last 5 of the third quarter and first 7 of the fourth. I don’t know where the Bullpups would have been without the freshman Madron in the first half, as he hoisted the team on his back by going 5 for 5 and scoring 11 points. Collegiate’s up-and-down style played to his strengths, which is in transition in the open floor where he can best utilize his athleticism that is off the charts for one so young.
Inside, Cody Stufflebean scored 5 points on just 5 shots, but he had the biggest rebounding game for a Bullpup in 43 years as his 19 caroms were the most since 21 by Park Estes in 1976. Stufflebean was going to war with players in the 6-9 to 6-6 range and using his brutish strength to snare everything that was coming off the rim.
Kyler Hoppes continues to provide key minutes despite painful tendonitis that limits some of his ability. He does a lot of little things that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet and logged 24 minutes, gutting it out. Cooper Courtney provided his usual length on defense as he’s a disruptor and all the players got into the game in what was a total team effort.
The Bullpups are now without sharpshooting backup guard Hayes Schmid, who was having surgery today as he’s battling health issues. His courage could spur this team as it realizes there’s more things important in life than winning or losing a basketball game.
If the Bullpups can somehow come away with a road win at treacherous Andale on Friday, they could get on a serious roll heading into the postseason. If they do, they’ll look back at the second half of the Collegiate game as the firestarter.