It took all of the famed “McPherson magic” to pull this one out.
After a wild finish to the first semifinal game Friday night in the McPherson Invitational that found Manhattan pulling out an improbable win, McPherson High and Wichita Heights one-upped that in the finale before a packed house.
In one of the wildest games in Invitational history, the Bullpups roared back from an early 10-point deficit, appeared to be in trouble with a couple of minutes to go, only to pull out a 58-50 victory as they finished the game on a 13-3 run, 11 of the points coming at the foul line.
The 11-0 Bullpups move on to the 7:30 p.m. championship game on Saturday that is sure to be emotionally charged as Payton Stephens played his first three years for the Indians before his family moved to McPherson over the summer.
MHS is seeking its 21st Invitational championship and Manhattan its third.
But the Bullpups almost didn’t get there. They found themselves down 21-11 at one point in the first half before finishing strong to get within three at the break, 25-22.
“I told (MHS assistant) coach (Gordon Peck) when we were going up the stairs, I said that we’re lucky to be where we’re at,” MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said.
MHS came out strong in the second half with an 8-2 run to take the lead and it was a grinder the rest of the way.
The game’s turning point came with 1:42 to go when the Bullpups’ Kyler Kinnamon was fouled, which caused Heights coach Joe Auer to be assessed a technical. After four Kinnamon free throws, MHS went from two down to two up, then paraded to the foul line the rest of the game as it 7 of 8 in the final 36 seconds. For the game, MHS was 30 of 36 at the line, while the Falcons were only 7 of 10.
“You hate to see something like that happen, you really do,” Kinnamon said of the technical. “I don’t know. Just not much to say about that. Our advantage at the free throw line is going to be huge and obviously when Joe looks at that, he’s going to say that’s a difference. I thought the key was that we got killed on the glass in the first half. We were down 11, so we win the second-half rebound battle.”
“All I know is that a guy with his back to me reacted to something I was saying to my kid. Period. End of discussion,” said Auer, who kept his composure after the game when addressing reporters, but was visibly upset. “His comment was, well, uh... I thought I heard something. It’s the play of the game, the moment of the game. So, there’s no doubt about it. So here’s the thing. It’s part of a 36 free-throw package. We foul less than any team in our league. We are the least-fouling team in our league. Check the stats... I’ll be honest with you, we might have to go four games and have a team shoot 36 free throws against us... it’s incredible that we were in the game. I can’t believe my kids played that incredibly well to be in that game.”
Stephens found holes at the high post in the Falcons’ 2-3 zone and drove repeatedly to score 18 points, as he time and again was fouled, making 10 of 14 at the line. Kinnamon and Drew Pyle scored 13 apiece.
“I thought Payton became really aggressive in attacking the basket,” Kinnamon said. “There are some holes in that zone, but if you catch it there and don’t attack, then it doesn’t do you any good.”
Davon Gill scored 14 to lead the Falcons and Semaj Hervey added 10.
After two days, the tourney lived up to its seeding in that the No. 1 and 2 teams are meeting in the finals and with the Stephens subplot, the electricity will be palpable.
“Obviously Payton moving here from Manhattan, it will mean a lot to him,” Kinnamon said. “I’m just really pleased that our kids get to experience this because it is very special.”
MHS (58) — D. Pyle 3-6, 4-5, 13; B. Pyle 0-0, 2-2, 2; Kinnamon 2-5, 10-14, 13; Wine 0-2, 4-4, 4; Nutter 2-5, 0-0, 4; Stephens 4-8, 10-14, 18; Gabel 1-2, 2-2, 4. Totals — 12-29, 30-36, 58. 3-pointers — D. Pyle 3, Kinnamon 1.
Heights (50) — Hervey 4-14, 0-0, 10; Lowe 3-9, 0-0, 6; Patrick 2-3, 0-0, 5; Bahner 3-5, 3-3, 9; Williams 2-3, 1-2, 5; Gill 6-11, 2-3, 14; McCray 0-0, 1-2, 1. Totals — 20-45, 7-10, 50. 3-pointers — Hervey 2, Patrick 1.