We’re going to learn a lot today and Saturday about the character of not only the McPherson High boys basketball team, but that of the loyal Bullpup fans.
MHS was unceremoniously bounced in the first round of its own tournament for the first time in 13 years on Thursday, when Wichita North came in unfazed by all the state championship banners and glorious history to dominate the previously undefeated and top-seeded Bullpups for a 73-63 victory.
The Redskins were the pin with the Bullpups in the role of the balloon. You could just feel the air and excitement go out of the Roundhouse when MHS lost in the first round for only the second time in Kurt Kinnamon’s 19 years as head coach. I don’t think I’ve seen such a gloomy feeling surrounding a Bullpup team since losing in 1986 to Buhler in the sub-state finals, it was that dark, dank and dismal.
Make no mistake, the better team clearly won on this night. After it was 4-4 early, the Redskins went on an incredible 20-2 run the rest of the quarter for a 24-6 lead and the shellshocked Bullpups never really recovered, though they clawed and scratched within eight points after being down 20 in the fourth quarter. They exhausted themselves, diving after every loose ball and never saying uncle until the final buzzer blasted.
This North team was hardly No. 8-seeded chopped liver. It had several players back from last year’s team that made the Class 6A State Tournament. It wasn’t Conner and Company since their star Conner Frankamp had graduated, but it was a team loaded with seniors, including all five starters. It had been tested by the rigors of the athletic Wichita City League and that prepared it well. Did it play over its head? Probably. But that doesn’t take away from the props it deserves.
MHS, on the other hand, played two difficult teams to open the season, but since then it had basically decided all of its games in the first quarter by jumping on opponents early. Also, this is a team where five of the top nine players are sophomores and I don’t care how good the young players are, two years difference makes a big difference in terms of maturity and physicality.
To be honest, the Bullpups simply got tight. They had not been in this position for more than a month and forgot how to react. They rushed shots and basically casted away open 3-pointers in the first quarter (0 of 7), while North was gaining more and more confidence with each additional basket. When you are doubled in rebounds (34-17), you’re not going to win many games. The Bullpups’ lack of bulk clearly was glaring and exposed by the more physical Redskins.
The Bullpups tried to scramble back into the game, but the damage was done. North made every big play and weathered every MHS run. And don’t be surprised if it rides this wave of momentum in today’s semifinals against Lawrence Free State for a victory.
The Bullpups have little time to lick their wounds. Arch-rival Buhler is on tap at 3:00 today and MHS has to have proper focus or it will find itself in a game. It drilled the Crusaders earlier this year and Buhler had a dreadful performance Thursday, which means it certainly wants to redeem itself.
I look for the Bullpups to bounce back strong today. Kinnamon will have them ready to play and the thought of losing to Buhler probably is distasteful to the players. I’m guessing if they win, they’ll have a huge game coming up Saturday with Blue Valley West, which will cause all kinds of matchup programs.
The other big question is how will the McPherson fans respond.
The crowd was disappointingly small on Thursday, as many fans no doubt wanted to save their money and attend the final two nights. But now MHS is relegated to the afternoon today and Saturday.
I don’t expect those who have to work to be there today, but I think it reflects badly on our community if there isn’t a good crowd for the championship game. Many coaches asked me Thursday what has happened to our crowd and I told them they’re just waiting for the final two days.
This is the 50th year of the tournament and one of its strongest attributes has been the atmosphere. But if the championship game is attended by only 300 or 400 fans, it makes McPherson look as though it has taken its ball and gone home. The championship game of the best tournament in Kansas certainly deserves to be well attended.