McPherson High School’s third straight McPherson Invitational championship was not like the previous two.
For years the Bullpups have marched into their prestigious home tournament with locked and loaded, battle tested teams, only to leave with an invitational championship much to the surprise of nobody. But this team had its skeptics. Head coach Kurt Kinnamon even questioned his team's toughness.
After a 53-43 home loss to Andale on Jan. 13, the Bullpups were 6-4 entering the invitational, with no signature wins they could hang their hats on. Over the course of 72 hours, the Pups left with three.
Wins over Shawnee Mission East and Maize led up to a brilliant team effort, which saw the Bullpups capture their 23rd McPherson Invitational championship with a 66-56 win over Manhattan. Mason and Jake Alexander were named to the All-Tournament Team, while Ben Pyle was named Most Valuable Player.
Pyle was no doubt worthy of MVP. Like his older brother Drew, Ben has a way of making his presence felt most in big games. He scored 23 in last year’s McPherson Invitational championship. He also scored 23 in last year’s state championship game.
So it came as no surprise when Pyle averaged over 22 points a game in the tournament, capped off by a 25 point performance in the championship game.
Pyle began the game by draining back to back 3-pointers, but the Bullpups fell behind early without much help offensively. Pyle scored the first nine McPherson points, until Wyatt Seidl made a layup that seemingly kick started everyone else.
Mason Alexander drained two 3-pointers in the final minute of the first quarter to give the Bullpups a 17-15 lead. Thomas Diggs joined in on the fun by drilling a thee near the end of the half that put the Bullpups ahead 30-29 at halftime.
Three straight 3-pointers by Mason Alexander, Jayse Alexander and Drew Labertew put some separation between the two teams midway through the third quarter. Seidl came up with a huge offensive rebound and put back as the third quarter expired that gave the Pups a seven point lead heading to the fourth.
Manhattan was always kept at arm's length, as the mindset of the Bullpups never strained from the task at hand until the finish. Jake Alexander was huge in the final quarter, with 9 of his 11 points coming in the final eight minutes.
The Bullpups made 91 percent of their free throws in the game, including 6 of 7 in the final half. The Bullpups also made 13 of 19 of their shots (68 percent) in the second half, which included 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Both Alexander's scored 11 points with Mason adding five assists. Drew Labertew scored nine points while Kinnamon lauded his defense throughout the entire tournament.
The Bullpups are now 9-4 and host Newton at 7:30 p.m Tuesday.
In other action, Mill Valley defeated Hutchinson, 56-49, for seventh place. Wichita Heights took home third place after knocking of Shawnee Mission East 91-82. And Maize was a 50-46 winner over Blue Valley West in the third-place match.