Wichita Heights coach Joe Auer was effusive in his praise of McPherson High Thursday night.
Auer’s team had just polished off Maize 68-43 in the first round of the McPherson Invitational and to most observers who saw all four games, the Falcons were the most impressive team of the eight.
Auer didn’t have to wait for the outcome of McPherson High’s game with Hutchinson. He already was game-planning for the Bullpups, who stopped and started several times in a choppy 56-43 victory over Hutchinson.
While most teams would take a 13-point victory, the Bullpups were clearly disappointed that they didn’t bury their arch-rival, as the Salthawks hung around and hung around, refusing to go away.
Tonight’s semifinal game between Auer’s Falcons and MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon’s Bullpups will have all the electricity of a championship game. While the Roundhouse was rather morbid Thursday, it will be outrageously disappointing if the voltage isn’t turned up tonight.
The teams met for the championship in 2011, with the Falcons outlasting the Bullpups 81-73, despite 39 points by Christian Ulsaker. Both teams would go on to win state championships, the Falcons in Class 6A and the Bullpups in 5A, the last year they were in that class.
“We’ve been here before. I’ve been here before, our coaches have been here before,” said Auer, whose team won four straight Class 6A titles during the Perry Ellis era. “So I know what it’s like and I can’t wait. If you’re not excited about the opportunity to play this program in their house on a Friday night, then you don’t belong in basketball.”
The Falcons don’t have the Division I talent of their 2011 team, but they are supremely efficient. They committed just four turnovers against Maize and turbo-charged guards Chris Lowe and Semaj Hervey controlled the tempo. It’s probably the first time this year the Bullpups have faced a team that will be quicker.
The Falcons also have some length inside with Cameron Ellis and Davon Gill, both long-armed and aggressive. It will be important for the Bullpups to at least break even on the boards.
As for the Bullpups, Kinnamon said his team is going to have to turn it up a notch. After playing at a rarefied level in five wins before Christmas, the Bullpups have been somewhat indifferent in January despite easily winning games by bloated margins. But they also haven’t played a high level of competition since the trip to Kansas City and maybe this will be the game that rekindles their interest.
A fascinating matchup will be MHS’ Kyler Kinnamon against Lowe and Hervey. There are very few guards in Kansas that have Kinnamon’s quickness, but Lowe and Hervey are both jets.
Heights will play a lot of zone, something the Bullpups are seeing more and more of. MHS made just 2 of 14 from beyond the arc on Thursday and another night like that and the Bullpups could be hard-pressed to advance.
McPherson fans are expected to turn out en masse. There was no band on Thursday and the energy seemed to exhale out of the building. Tonight should be the night the Roundhouse is alive like the old days.
In the other semi, Shawnee Mission East is the probable favorite as its length probably will bother Manhattan. The Lancers were right up there with Heights for the most impressive team on the first night.