McPherson High’s boys just closed their eyes and imagined they were playing for the championship of the 50th annual McPherson Invitational Saturday afternoon, instead of fifth place.
They were up against gigantic Blue Valley West, which returned some key members from a team that took second in Class 6A last year. It was a game that in most years would have drawn in excess of 2,000 Roundhouse faithful, instead of the smattering few hundred that were fortunate to witness such a masterful performance.
The Bullpups, in clearly their best effort of the year, could have beaten just about anybody in a 64-53 victory.
And while it wasn’t first place like last year, the feeling MHS took away from the game is about as important. It went toe-to-toe with a talented big city school and lived to tell about it.
“We talked about before the game, well, we’re not playing in the championship game, obviously, so this is our championship game,” said MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, whose team is now 10-1. “And that’s the approach we took to it.”
There was so much good the Bullpups could take away from this game. Their defense on 6-8 Blaise Gammon, who had averaged 30 points the first two nights of the tournament, was jaw-dropping. Peter Horton got the call in the man-to-man, then MHS played great help defense when it threw in some zone. Gammon scored seven points and was able to take just five shots in just under 28 minutes.
“It was a fantastic individual effort from Peter, but it was a fantastic team effort from the help standpoint,” Kinnamon said. “I thought our focus on the help side... there just wasn’t anywhere to throw it. Pete did a great job of getting around Gammon and when he did, there was somebody there.”
Despite giving away several inches at several positions, the Bullpups bowed their backs to outrebound the Jags, 30-19.
“To outrebound a team like that by 11 rebounds, and I don’t remember a 50-50 ball that we didn’t get, that’s just a fantastic effort from a group of guys that just said, hey, we’re going to get it done, this is how we can play,” Kinnamon said. “We’ve had some great efforts this year, but we haven’t had as fine an effort as that was.”
The Bullpups also turned it over just six times, shot 51 percent from the field, made 13 of 19 free throws and had 17 assists.
Kyler Kinnamon had an All-State stat line with 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Ryan Horton scored 10 points, while Peter Horton, Nathan Nutter and reserve Avery Gabel all added eight and Drew Pyle chipped in with all seven of his in the second half.
Blue Valley West went against its strength of pounding it inside to fire up 16 treys, making seven. Parker Roy scored 18 points to lead the Jags, while Connor Kaiser and Ryan Ralston chipped in with 12 apiece.
MHS took control of the game with a 14-3 second quarter to make it 30-18 at the half. The Jags did make a run near the end of the third quarter, but MHS scored four points in the final 16 seconds to widen the lead back to double digits, 47-36.
From there, it was just a matter of the Bullpups protecting their lead and it never was less than eight in the final quarter.
The Bullpups will remain at home on Tuesday to play Circle, which last year stunned the Bullpups in Towanda right after MHS had just won the McPherson Invitational against Shawnee Mission East.