Invite update: Free State opens a lot of eyes

By Steve Sell
January 18, 2018
Kendall Shaw

The Lawrence Free State Firebirds had watched a higher seed fall in the game before them in the first round of the McPherson Invitational, so they were well aware they couldn’t look past No. 7 seed Junction City.

But for most of the first half in the second game of the day, Class 6A’s No. 1-ranked team found themselves trying to avoid the upset bug as the Bluejays were staring them right in the eye.

But Free State, a physically and mentally mature team with eight seniors and some chiseled athletes, used an 8-2 run to close out the first half with a 32-25 lead and then started the second half on a 10-2 rip to assume control before going on for an impressive 67-45 victory to advance to Friday’s 6:30 semifinals to take on upstart and No. 6 seed Bishop Carroll, which impressed everybody with a 76-63 upset of Derby, the No. 7 team in Class 6A.

Smooth Free State guard Garrett Luinstra was easily the best player on the floor as he scored 12 points in each half for a game-high 24. Zach McDermott added 14 as nine Firebirds scored. Jalan Robinson, the massive 6-5 center, muscled his way to 10 rebounds. A key to the win was that Free State turned it over only 5 times.

AJ Dickerson topped the Bluejays with 17.

The play of the game came at the end of the third quarter when Free State’s Noah Butler tomahawked a dunk to send the electrified crowd into a collective high-five to push the lead to 52-36 and the Firebirds cruised from there as they looked like a team that is going to be a handful the next two days.

Free State will take a 6-1 record into its game Friday with Carroll, while Junction City, now the best 3-7 team you’ll ever see, matches up with Derby in what should be a terrific consolation bracket game at 3:00.

Free State (67) — Luinstra 8-12, 5-5, 24; McCaffrey 1-5. 0-0, 3; Butler 2-4, 0-0, 4; McDermott 6-10, 0-0, 14; Robinson 2-3, 4-6, 8; Edwards 1-1, 0-0, 2; White-Downing 2-3, 0-0, 4; King 1-7, 2-2, 4; Middleton 2-3, 0-0, 4; Waechter 0-1, 0-0, 0. Totals — 25-49, 11-13, 67. 3-pointers — Luinstra 3, McDermott 2, McCaffrey 1.

Junction City (45) — Eaves 1-2, 0-0, 2; Westerhaus 2-6, 0-0, 5; King 3-7, 2-2, 9 Dickerson 4-10, 6-6, 17; Cason 1-5, 3-4, 5; Pratt 0-1, 0-0, 0; Dale 1-5, 4-4, 7; Etheridge 0-1, 0-0, 0. Totals — 12-37, 15-16, 45. 3-pointers — Dickerson 3, Westerhaus 1, King 1, Dale 1.


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