McPherson High’s boys had heard the whispers to the point where they had become shouts.
They entered the 53rd annual McPherson Invitational after a perplexing first half of the season, which included an ego-sapping home loss to Andale last week that cast serious doubts about the Bullpups being in line for their 23rd Invitational title.
Especially with a field punctuated by a raft of talented 6A and 5A schools with distinguished pedigrees. The fourth-seeded Bullpups were a team of more questions than answers and seemingly going in about four different directions on the compass and definitely not on the same page.
But in a span of 72 hours, the Bullpups went from paradox to pandemonium and quieted the doubting Thomases. With a 66-56 victory over classy Manhattan Saturday night before a vociferous crowd that had to be raspy at game’s end, they are now 3-peat champions of Kansas’ most prestigious high school tournament.
It took another near-flawless effort by MHS as it defeated a Manhattan team that trailed 30-29 at the half despite shooting 75 percent and ended the game with only 9 turnovers.
“I’m very happy because honestly after the Andale loss, my dauber was down and I think everybody felt that way,” MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said. “These kids are very resilient and just kept trying to do what we wanted them to do and they still don’t always do what we wanted them to do, but I thought our effort was just tremendous tonight. We had big plays, several guys who made big plays.”
Manhattan no doubt was bewildered at halftime as it made 12 of 16 shots from the field and yet was still looking up as the Bullpups. MHS, though, potted 6 of 12 3-pointers, which was the impetus for its lead.
The game’s turning point came in the third quarter when in rapid-fire succession Mason Alexander, Jayse Alexander and Drew Labertew knocked down 3-pointers as MHS went from a point down to six points up as Manhattan had one brief interruption. The Bullpups then played within themselves in the fourth quarter and didn’t try to do too much and the lead swelled to as many as 12 as the Roundhouse is still the Bullpups’ house.
“I think a key is that Mason did such a good job of guarding (Trevor) Hudgins,” Kinnamon said. “He’s a really, really good player and Mason did a good job of keeping in front of him. Maybe it’s a lefty guarding a lefty, he’s a little more comfortable with that.”
Alexander also ran the point under control as the Bullpups committed just 6 turnovers. “That’s just outstanding,” Kinnamon said.
Hudgins did score 16 points, but he didn’t take over the game like he did on Friday when he carried Manhattan past Blue Valley West. After 14 points through three quarters, Alexander held him to a basket and that came in the closing garbage time when the subs had come in.
Last but not least, of course, was Ben Pyle — the tourney MVP — who rained 9 points worth of 3-pointers early on and steadily constructed a 25-point effort as it’s become accepted that he’s just going to be good every night out. He also had 6 rebounds as he deservedly earned the title of best player in the tournament.
Jake Alexander, after three nondescript quarters, shook it off for 9 important points in the final period to end the night with 11. MHS was 23 of 40 from the field and a stunning 10 of 17 from long range as the 3-point shooting on this night was no fool’s gold. And 10 of 11 from the foul line put the icing on the cake.
Just missing double figures was Drew Labertew, who found his shot this weekend that he hopes to retain the rest of the season. He also was a defensive menace the entire weekend.
Tommy Ekart scored 16 for Manhattan and Cade Roberts added 15. Manhattan still finished the game shooting 24 of 41, normally good enough to win a game handily.
The Bullpups are now a healthier 9-4 and must avoid a letdown on Tuesday in a boys-only game at home against Newton.
“We have to use this as a springboard,” Kinnamon said.
McPherson (66) — Labertew 3-4, 2-3, 9; M. Alexander 4-7, 0-0, 11; Jk. Alexander 4-8, 2-2, 11; Diggs 1-2, 0-0, 3; B. Pyle 8-15, 6-6, 25; Seidl 2-2, 0-0, 4; Jy. Alexander 1-2, 0-0, 3. Totals — 23-40, 10-11, 66. 3-pointers — M. Alexander 3, Pyle 3, Labertew 1, Jk. Alexander 1, Diggs 1, Jy. Alexander 1.
Manhattan (56) — Saville 1-2, 0-0, 2; Hudgins 7-11, 3-3, 18; Trapp 0-1, 0-0, 0; Ekart 7-14, 0-0, 16; Roberts 7-9, 1-2, 15; Awbrey 2-3, 0-1, 4; Ostermann 0-0, 1-2, 1. Totals — 24-41, 5-8, 56. 3-pointers — Ekart 2, Hudgins 1.