McPherson High’s boys proved once and for all their completeness as a basketball team here Tuesday.
Around the state, the consensus is the Bullpups rely greatly on their Big 3 of Ben Pyle, Mason Alexander and Jake Alexander, while the other players toil in anonymity except to Bullpup fans.
From an offensive standpoint Tuesday against arch-rival Buhler, the Bullpups were down to the Big 1, Pyle, and even he scored only 2 points in the second half after a remarkable first half.
The other 20 second-half points came from the so-called “complementary players.”
But Bullpup coach Kurt Kinnamon was quick to point out after the game that his bench keyed the victory, along with unsung starters Drew Labertew and Thomas Diggs.
Labertew put some distance between the teams with a personal 7-0 run, as he scored the final 4 points of the third quarter and then converted an old-fashioned 3-point play for MHS’ first points of the fourth quarter. He also had a steal and drew a charge that thwarted the Crusaders' offense.
Diggs scored 7 points and had one of the game’s highlights when he was able to score inside on a nice move against Buhler’s 6-8 center Grant Owens.
The bench performances of Jayse Alexander, Cody Stufflebean, Kyler Hoppes, Aren Trost and Gabe Hoover were huge as each made at least one play that impacted the game.
MHS fans have become accustomed to taking the Big 3 for granted, because they have been so good all year. Pyle had a first half for the ages, knocking down 20 points and making 6 3-pointers, many of them from NBA distance. Had it not been for him, Kinnamon said, “we would have been kicked.”
For two of the Alexander cousins, it was just one of those nights the ball wouldn’t go in the basket. Mason and Jake Alexander combined to go 2 of 15 from the field, 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. Those kind of nights are an aberration.
But Jayse Alexander, the third Alexander cousin, was immense with 5 points and 2 steals, not to mention providing his usual physical style of play.
Buhler is probably the best 3-3 team in Class 4A Division I. It had to come away feeling good about its performance as it gets another chance at the Bullpups next month at Jim Baker Field House and very well could play MHS in the Roundhouse again during the sub-state in March.
The Crusaders have four highly capable players. The 6-8 Owens scored 9 points and grabbed a like number of rebounds. He also came up with 4 blocks as he’ll be one of the best big men the Bullpups will face all year.
Dylan Brown has no fear in taking the ball to the basket as he time and again drove the lane to score a team-high 17 points. Kinnamon was somewhat disappointed after the game that Brown and the other Crusaders time and again beat the Bullpup defenders off the bounce, something I’m sure will be corrected before the teams meet again.
Dylan Brown, the All-State running back, returned this season after missing last year with an injury. He provides athleticism and good defensive play. Dalton Smyres, the talented wide receiver during football, showed a lot of spring by scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Buhler also showed the ability to handle the Bullpups’ pressure defense, committing just 13 turnovers and MHS converted those into only 9 points. Normally the Bullpups are a team that scores about 20 points a game off the opponents’ mistakes.
The Bullpups also know, though, that it’s very seldom when two of their top scorers are off on the same night. They have been so good all year that sometimes we forget they’re human.
I’m sure Kinnamon, deep down, was somewhat satisfied that his team was pushed. He’ll learn more about his team in a game like this than the runaway victories that had been commonplace in other home games.
Buhler probably felt like it picked up a moral victory. It now knows the sub-state will be more than just a Bullpup sub-state coronation, that MHS will have to earn its ticket to state.