SALINA — McPherson High’s boys had watched No. 1-seed Kansas City Piper bite the dust right before they took to the court for Wednesday’s Class 4A Division I State Tournament opener.
So they knew anything could happen.
Then they found themselves locked in a throwdown with unheralded Labette County for a half, leading only 25-22 as potential-upset thoughts again filled the air.
But this time form held true as the Bullpups snapped out of it and turned on the afterburners in the second half to pull away for a 65-47 victory to advance to Friday’s 4:45 p.m. semifinal game against giant-killer Andover Central, which was a 77-71 winner over Piper that sent shockwaves throughout the Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
“I thought we did just enough good things to get a little separation,” said MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, whose team’s 13th win in a row pushed its record to 19-4. “Obviously there were some things we would have liked to have done better. But there were some things we did pretty well. To win by 18 and shoot only 22 of 57 is pretty good. We did a good job at the foul line (13 of 17). Rebound-wise, to win the battle by 14 after it was only one at the half I think was a key.”
MHS nearly ran away and hid out of the chute, up 7-0 to start the game. But a 10-0 rip by Labette caught the Bullpups by surprise and behind Javon Reliford’s 15 points, the Grizz wouldn’t go away in the first half.
It was still just 31-29 early in the third when the Bullpups stepped on the gas. A 16-6 pop to complete the third quarter made it a 13-point game and later they had a 10-0 sizz to lead by as many as 20. The Bullpups suffocated Labette in the second half as it could make just 4 of 27 shots.
“At this point in time it’s survive and advance,” Kinnamon said.
Ben Pyle authored virtuoso numbers with 23 points and 17 huge rebounds. Mason Alexander shot it well from 3-point by knocking down 4 and added 16 points. Thomas Diggs came up with one of his best games of the year with 11.
Reliford finished with 25 points to lead Labette and Easton Dean added 10.
Kinnamon said that he was glad his team was able to view Andover Central, which proved its 9-14 record is misleading. The Jaguars led by as many as 22 in the first half, but Piper came back to actually lead by a point with under a minute to go before Central scored the final 7 points of the game to win, 77-71.
“They put on an unbelievable shooting display,” Kinnamon said. “They spread you out, they drive it, kick it and make shots. It’s one of those things where you’re never out of it and the game is never over.”
MHS (65) — Labertew 0-2, 2-2, 2; M. Alexander 6-16, 0-0, 16; Jk. Alexander 4-11, 1-1, 9; Diggs 4-5, 2-3, 11; Pyle 8-21, 4-6, 23; Jy. Alexander 0-2, 4-5, 4. Totals — 22-57, 13-17, 65. 3-pointers — M. Alexander 4, Pyle 3, Diggs 1.
Labette (47) — Reliford 8-10, 5-10, 25; Anderson 0-3, 1-2, 1; Back 0-1, 2-2, 2; Russell 2-10, 2-3, 7; Dean 3-11, 3-6, 10; Brader 0-1, 1-2, 1; Hibarger 0-2, 0-0, 0; Sorrell 0-2, 1-2, 1. Totals — 13-50, 15-27, 47. 3-pointers — Reliford 4, Russell 1, Dean 1.