It was all about heart.
McPherson High coach Kurt Kinnamon revealed he’s questioned his team’s toughness at times during this roller-coaster season, but Friday’s gutty 79-73 victory over hot-shooting Maize proved what a big valentine what the Bullpups really have.
They had to overcome an 11-point deficit in the second half and perhaps the most remarkable 3-point shooting display in Invitational history as the Eagles were a mind-boggling 15 of 25 from beyond the arc.
MHS, now 8-4, will attempt to win its 23rd Invite title at 7 p.m. Friday against Manhattan, which is going for its third.
“Tremendous basketball game,” a welled-up-with pride Kinnamon said. “(Longtime Bullpup supporter) Earnie Frazier wanted to come in and tell them how proud he was and after Earnie left I said ‘you guys don’t know what proud is because I’m proud. I’m just proud of our fight, our toughness, our grit... things were looking bleak. That was without question the toughest we’ve played all year long.’”
And MHS had to be tough. Maize made 7 of 13 3-balls in the first half to get out to a 37-33 lead and then ripped out to a 48-37 advantage as the assault from beyond the arc continued. The Bullpups trailed by 5, 59-54, going into the fourth quarter.
But MHS’ pressure defense, which at times has not produced the turnovers that Kinnamon desires, began to squeeze the Eagles like a vise. Drew Labertew came up with several drawn charges and the Roundhouse crowd got back into it. Ben Pyle, who had struggled in the first half, came alive early in the fourth quarter, then Mason Alexander was spectacular down the stretch as he scored 11 points in the final 2:52.
MHS won the game at the line in the second half by making 19 of 21 (and Pyle was 11 of 12 for the game), while Maize didn’t get there often because it spent much of the game on the perimeter. For the game, the Bullpups were 24 of 29 while Maize was just 6 of 8, but it really didn’t test the MHS interior defense that much because it was having so much long-range success.
Pyle scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half and Mason Alexander finished with 23. Jake Alexander, for the second night in a row, scored 20.
A player Kinnamon lauded was Labertew, whose defense really swung the game as he also had a key steal to go along with the charges he created.
The Bullpups never did have an answer for Grant Bugbee, who poured in 31 points, 20 of those in the first half and he was 6 of 8 from 3-point for the game. Sophomore star Caleb Grill was as good as advertised with 14 points, displaying sniper-like tendencies by making 4 of 6 bombs. John Short added 11 and Dalyn Johnson scored 10.
MHS now plays a Manhattan team that plays in-your-face defense and Kinnamon has been impressed with the Indians both nights.
“They’re very, very good. They’re well coached and they’re tough,” Kinnamon said.
Maize plays at 5 p.m. for third against Blue Valley West.
McPherson (79) — Labertew 1-2, 0-0, 2; M. Alexander 8-11, 7-9, 23; Jk. Alexander 8-13, 4-4, 20; Diggs 3-4, 0-0, 8; B. Pyle 6-15, 11-12, 24; Kinnamon 0-1, 0-0, 0; Seidl 0-0, 2-4, 2; Jy. Alexander 0-1, 0-0, 0. Totals — 26-47, 24-29, 79. 3-pointers — Diggs 2, Pyle 1.
Maize (73) — Grill 5-8, 0-0, 14; D. Johnson 3-7, 2-2, 10; Short 4-7, 0-0, 11; Bugbee 11-16, 3-4, 31; Love 3-7, 1-1, 7; J. Johnson 0-1, 0-0, 0. Totals — 26-46, 6-8, 73. 3-pointers — Bugbee 6, Grill 4, Short 3, D. Johnson 2.