The two-time defending McPherson Invitational champions will get a chance for three in a row.
In a performance that is best described as gutsy, the McPherson High School boys basketball team overcame an 11-point deficit to upend No. 1 seed Maize, 79-73, Friday night in the McPherson Invitational semifinals. The Bullpups will take on Manhattan at 7 p.m. in the championship.
“I’m proud of our fight, our toughness and our grit,” head coach Kurt Kinnamon said. “Things were looking bleak, and that was without a doubt the toughest we’ve played all year long.”
While Maize made their living from beyond the arc, a staggering 15 of 25 for the game, the Bullpups pounded the ball inside and outscored Maize 38-16 in the paint.
The Bullpups also shot 29 free throw attempts, 21 in the second half, for 83 percent, compared to just eight free throw attempts the entire game for the Eagles. The Bullpups shot 91 percent from the line in the second half — most of them coming in a fourth quarter the Bullpups outscored Maize 25-14 in.
Ben Pyle in particular had a great game from the charity stripe, knocking down 11 of his 12 free throw attempts to add to his team high 24 points.
“Sometimes we act like the lane is radioactive, and tonight we did a better job with that,” Kinnamon said. “Ben has struggled from the line this year, and for him to go 11 of 12 in pressure situations is fantastic.”
The first quarter was fast and furious with both teams getting up and down the floor with ease. The Bullpups led by as many as three and trailed by as many as five in the first quarter, only to trail by one at the end of the quarter. Thomas Diggs drained a 3-pointer as the quarter was coming to a close.
The Bullpups began the second quarter on a 9-2 run but the Eagles answered with an 8-2 run to tie the game at 28. The game was tied at 33 as the first half came to a close, but the Bullpups collapsed in the final seconds and Maize took advantage.
With under three seconds remaining, Maize drove the lane and made a layup to go up two. A careless inbound pass from McPherson resulted in a quick steal and an even quicker mid range jumper that somehow went in. The Bullpups were hoping to go into halftime tied. Instead, they were down four.
As Maize continued to hit from long range, their lead grew to as many as 11 thanks to a 9-2 run to start the half. The Bullpups scraped and clawed at the lead the remainder of the quarter, entering the fourth only down by five.
Maize continued to stay ahead until the 4:56 mark, as Drew Labertew came up with a steal on one end, and Jake Alexander finished with a layup at the other.
Pyle gave the Pups their first lead of the second half a minute later with a pair of free throws, and it was all McPherson from there. The Pups outscored Maize 15-9 down the stretch to book their ticket to Saturday night.
“I’ll be honest, there have been times where I’ve questioned how much toughness we have, and certainly this is a fantastic win,” Kinnamon said. “We had a lot of great individual performances.”
Pyle led the way with 24 points and 6 rebounds while Mason and Jake Alexander had 23 and 20 points respectively. Diggs added 8 points on 2 of 2 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Bullpups take on Manhattan at 7 p.m. in a rematch of the 2015 McPherson Invitational won by the Bullpups, 81-58.
“They’re very good; they’re well coached and they’re tough,” Kinnamon said. “They do things the way I like to see teams play.”
Manhattan advanced to the MIT championship thanks to a 46-35 win over No. 7 seed Blue Valley West. Trevor Hudgins will be a player to keep an eye out for, as Kinnamon says he is a bad matchup for his team. Hudgins is the all-time leading assister in Manhattan High history.
In the other two games, Shawnee Mission East responded from Thursday’s loss to McPherson with a 64-44 win over Mill Valley. Wichita Heights rebounded from an upset loss in the first round to down Hutchinson, 81-52.
Hutchinson and Mill Valley will play for seventh place at 1:30 p.m. Wichita Heights and Shawnee Mission East will play for fifth place at 3:15 p.m. and Blue Valley West will play Maize for third at 5 p.m.
All the excitement leads up to a 7 p.m. championship tipoff between McPherson and Manhattan.
Contact Gallagher Martin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GMartinSentinel.