SALINA — McPherson High's boys are hoping that freshman Jake Alexander can go one more day without realizing just how enormous the situation is.
For the second straight night the explosive Alexander showed no fear as he provided a huge spark for the Bullpups Friday, scoring 10 clutch points in the second half and 15 for the game off the bench to lead MHS to a 73-68 heart-stopper of a victory over 3-point specialists Andover Central. He had scored 11 off the bench on Thursday to jump-start a lethargic offense against Rose Hill.
The Bullpups now have the opportunity for a 3-peat as they take on mighty Miege at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at the Bicentennial Center. MHS, 23-1, has now won 71 of its last 73 games and its only loss this year came on a buzzer-beater against Missouri power Blue Springs South.
The Jaguars nearly ran MHS out of the gym early, making 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter and sinking all four 3-pointers to lead by as much as nine. However, the two-time defending champs showed so signs of panic and eventually settled down.
Still, the Jags buried 7 of 10 3-pointers and took a 34-33 lead into halftime.
But then the kid came up big. Alexander hit two old-fashioned 3-point plays that pushed MHS out to a 54-44 lead after three quarters and he started the fourth quarter with a 3-point bomb. While it got a little scary at the end as the Jags fired back up to cut it to one with 3:36 left, MHS made enough free throws to turn away the upset bid.
"Lot of runs, lot of big plays, lot of big baskets," an under-the-weather MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said as he's fighting his health. "Jake Alexander is just fearless in there and did a wonderful job of kind of putting us on his back."
He had a lot of help. Drew Pyle knocked down 20 points to lead the way, while Ben Pyle stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Spenser Wine had a monster third quarter and went on to finish with 13 as well as MHS again had nice balance.
Wyatt Seidl was immense in the first half for the Bullpups, scoring six points off the bench and muscling his way to five rebounds. "He was huge and he'll be huge tomorrow night," Kinnamon said.
All in all, it was a typical Bullpup performance when it was needed the most.
"I was just really proud of how hard they competed," Kinnamon said.
The Jags lost despite an amazing 13-of-22 performance from 3-point. The gifted Darraja Parnell did his best James Harden imitation by slicing and dicing his way to 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, as he time and again found Nicholas Taylor open and the sharpshooter also scored 19, making 5 of 8 from beyond the arc.
The Bullpups and Miege is the game a lot of people have been waiting for. The Stags, for the second straight game Friday, were pushed to the limit as they overcame a big deficit early to Paola for a 62-56 victory. With 6-11 Bol Bol and 6-8 Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, the Stags have a monster height and reach advantage. It could come down to MHS making perimeter shots against the Stags' 2-3 zone and after a slow start on Friday, the Bullpups were respectable 6 of 13 from 3-point.
"We're obviously going to be giving away a lot of size," Kinnamon said as his team is seeking its 14th state title overall. "But you're where you want to be and you're playing for what you want to play for."
MHS (73) — McDaniel 0-2, 0-0, 0; Loecker 1-6, 1-2, 3; D. Pyle 7-12, 3-4, 20; B. Pyle 3-8, 7-9, 13; Wine 5-6, 3-6, 13; Labertew 1-1, 0-0, 3; Jk. Alexander 5-8, 3-4, 15; Seidl 1-1, 4-5, 6. Totals — 23-44, 21-30, 73. 3-pointers — D. Pyle 3, Jk. Alexander 2, Labertew 1.
Andover Central (68) — Parnell 7-15, 3-5, 19; Birch 3-5, 1-1, 7; Taylor 6-10, 2-2, 19; Curtis 1-5, 0-0, 3; Anthemides 2-2, 2-3, 8; Bezdek 1-2, 1-4, 3; Leedom 3-4, 0-0, 9. Totals — 23-43, 9-15, 68. 3-pointers — Taylor 5, Leedom 3, Parnell 2, Anthemides 2, Curtis 1.