You can forget about Andover Central’s 6-14 regular-season record.
Andover Central 2.0 is a completely different team, the one it thought it was going to have all along.
The Jaguars, who oppose McPherson High’s boys in Friday’s 4:45 p.m. Class 4A Division I State Tournament semifinals, have been re-energized by the return of Cole Taylor.
Taylor was injured during the football season, but worked hard in rehab to get back in time for the sub-state. He averaged 20 points in leading the unheralded Jaguars to the title last weekend.
On Wednesday at Salina, Taylor’s 3-pointer was the big shot in propelling Andover Central to a 77-71 shocker of No. 1 seed Kansas City Piper.
If you need any indication of the Jags’ resolve, they watched a 22-point lead melt away as Piper actually took the lead with under a minute to go. But Taylor’s shot sparked a 7-0 run to close out the game.
It’s the second straight year Andover Central and McPherson have met in the semifinals. The teams played a wildly entertaining game last year, with the Bullpups outscoring the Jags 73-68 to advance to the finals to play Miege.
The painfully young Jaguars don’t have a lot of size, but they can shoot the heck out of it. Braden Belt, a 5-10 sophomore, lit up Piper for 23 points. Easton Leedom, a 6-2 sophomore, added 22 and 6-2 freshman Xavier Bell is uber-athletic and creative as he scored 11 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.
MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon vowed the Bullpups will not look at Andover Central’s sub-.500 record. All the Bullpups had to do was take the eye-ball test Wednesday and see how gifted the Jaguars are in the full court. They play an up-tempo style, one reason Piper got back into the game. They kept attacking and played the same way as what got them the 22-point lead, but the shots didn’t go in as easily as they did in the first half. This win will certainly make them flush with confidence and they probably believe they are in the midst of something special.
As for the Bullpups, they certainly have played better this season than their 65-47 victory over Labette. They probably relied too much on the 3-point shot in the first half — taking 15 — but were able to get the ball inside in the second half and pounded the boards after intermission.
Ben Pyle had 23 points and pulled down an amazing 17 rebounds, while Mason Alexander had his stroke working from 3-point as he added 16. The unsung player of the game was Thomas Diggs, who scored 11 points and did a lot of the dirty work.
The Bullpups, despite an up-and-down start to their season as they were just 6-4 after 10 games, are just where they want to be. One more win and they’ll almost surely play Miege again in the finals.