ROELAND PARK — Don’t be surprised if this was the appetizer before the main course in March at Salina.
In a rematch of the last two Class 4A Division I state championship games, McPherson High got out to an 8-point lead over defending champion Bishop Miege early in the second half and still led 42-39 going into the fourth quarter.
But the Stags, behind 6-9 All-American Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, held MHS to just a single basket over the final 6:21 and then fended off two potential game-tying shots in the final 5 seconds to deal the Bullpups a painful 48-46 loss just when it appeared MHS was going to win in the Stags’ hostile back yard.
Given the level the teams performed at on this night, few will be surprised if they don’t meet for a third straight year in Salina, site of the state tournament.
MHS was going for the last shot of the game when All-State All-Class Ben Pyle took an attempt that just rimmed out. Miege’s Jeremiah Garrett was fouled with 2.8 seconds left and made the first free throw, but missed the second and the Bullpups snagged the board with 1.8 left.
MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon devised a brilliant length-of-the-court play, with Mason Alexander making a long pass to Pyle, who caught and shot, but it again rimmed out.
“I thought we played extremely hard and why wouldn’t you?” Kinnamon said. “That’s what you expect. I told them in the locker room before the game, ‘to make me happy you’ve got to go out and play as hard as you can’ and I think we did that. We had a couple of breakdowns. The guys think I’m crazy when I harp on free throw rebounds, but we gave up two free throw rebounds and could that be the difference in the game? It could very well be. There are so many things that go into winning or losing a game and we did enough things to win the game. So that’s disappointing.”
Miege got out to a 14-7 lead, but the Bullpups — being the veteran team they are — methodically worked back into it. They closed the first half on a 12-5 rip to surge ahead 26-23, then scored the first 5 points of the second half for the biggest lead by either team, 31-23.
Miege, though, started to figure out MHS’ trapping defense and finally tied the game at 39-all before a Jake Alexander free throw at the end of the quarter sent MHS back into the lead at 40-39.
The final quarter was a game of chess. The Stags took the lead for good with 5:09 left on a dunk by muscular 6-8 Josh Early, who was being watched closely in the stands by Kansas State coach Bruce Weber.
Robinson-Earl (who was being watched by KU coach Bill Self, who sat on the front row) and Pyle played to a virtual standoff, with Robinson-Earl scoring 19 points and Pyle 15. Alexander added 11 points, all coming in the second half. Ezekiel Lopes furnished 14 important points for Miege as for the second time in the last three meetings his long-range bombing was a key.
Kinnamon thought his team had a shot at the end to force overtime.
“We executed the last play great, we had a great screen, a great pass and a great look, we just missed it,” he said. “It’s hard for Ben to drive in on a guy like Jeremiah because he has such a size advantage. Ben’s last shot, he kind of had to shoot a fade. He’s made a lot of fades, but just didn’t get that one to go down.”
In the JV game, the Bullpups used a huge second half to pull away from the Stags, 57-48. Max Alexander led MHS with 20 points and Cooper Courtney added 12. The Bullpups time and again broke the Miege press for easy layups.
The Miege boys outlasted the Bullpups 56-49 in the ninth-grade game despite a 21-point effort by Jayton Alexander and 14 points by Eli Pyle.
MHS goes on the road Tuesday to play at Abilene, which generally provides a highly competitive test.
MHS (46) — Labertew 1-2, 0-0, 2; Stufflebean 0-0, 2-2, 2; M. Alexander 4-12, 0-0, 8; Jk. Alexander 3-8, 4-5, 11; Diggs 4-4, 0-0, 8; B. Pyle 6-16, 0-0, 15; Jays. Alexander 0-1, 0-0, 0; Kinnamon 0-1, 0-0, 0. Totals — 18-44, 6-7, 46. 3-pointers — B. Pyle 3, Jk. Alexander 1.
Miege (48) — Jeffries 0-1, 1-2, 1; Garrett 1-3, 1-2, 4; Lopes 5-9, 1-1, 14; Robinson-Earl 7-16, 5-8, 19; Early 3-3, 0-0, 6; Jones 2-8, 0-0, 4. Totals — 18-40, 8-13, 48. 3-pointers — Lopes 3, Garrett 1.
MHS JV (57) — M. Alexander, 20, Stufflebean 2, Schmid 8, Hoover 4, Kinnamon 5, Courtney 12, Trost 6.
MHS 9th (49) — J. Alexander 21, E. Pyle 14, Powell 8, Hardman 4, Labertew 2.