Heights coach Joe Auer held the postgame stat sheet in his hands Friday night outside the Falcons’ locker room at McPherson’s storied Roundhouse.
Auer’s mind was still racing in the aftermath of McPherson’s 58-50 semifinal victory that propelled the Bullpups to the McPherson Invitational championship and dispatched Heights to Saturday’s third-place game.
“I can’t believe that we should have won a game tonight…,” Auer started. “I’ve been a high school coach for 27 years.
“We should have won a game tonight, and at the free-throw line, we shot 10 and they shot 36.”
In a game that Auer also designated as one of the best in which he’s been involved, free throws were the difference. McPherson, 11-0 and No. 2 in the Class 4A-Division I coaches rankings, made 30 of 36 for a 23-point advantage at the line.
None were bigger, however, than the four that Bullpups guard Kyler Kinnamon hit with 1:42 remaining after Heights’ Chris Lowe was whistled for his fifth foul in a loose ball scramble. Moments later, Auer received a technical foul from an official standing near the scorer’s table.
Kinnamon’s free throws turned Heights’ 47-45 lead into a 49-47 advantage for McPherson. The Falcons never led again.
“You hate to see something like that happen,” said McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon, whose team will play Manhattan in the title game. “You really do. There’s not much else I can say about that.”
Heights, 7-4 and No. 5 in 5A, held the upper hand on the reigning 4A-I champion at various times. The Falcons used their matchup zone to hinder McPherson’s offense and built a 21-11 lead in the first half.
McPherson, which got 18 points from Manhattan transfer Payton Stephens and 13 from Kyler Kinnamon and Drew Pyle, rallied for a 41-38 lead after three quarters. But Heights responded with the first seven points of the fourth, including a three-pointer by Justin Patrick, for a 45-41 lead with 5:23 remaining.
Heights was led by Davon Gill’s 14 points and Semaj Hervey’s 10.
“I could not be more proud of the kids,” Auer said. “What an effort. I have nothing but praise for my kids tonight.”
After McPherson gained the lead, there were moments that allowed the Bullpups to keep it. Stephens missed two free throws with 1:02 remaining, but as Heights’ Davis Bahner grabbed the rebound, Pyle raced in to tie him up, extending McPherson’s possession.
Kyler Kinnamon missed his lone free throw with 34 seconds to play. But teammate Spenser Wine snagged the rebound, leading to two Pyle free throws that made it 54-49.
McPherson was 13 of 16 from the line in the final quarter and 20 of 25 in the second half.
The Bullpups’ 36 free throws were 14 more than any Heights opponent has shot this season. That stung Auer, as did the technical he received from the official, whose back was to the coach when he called it.
“At the end of the day, we’ve still got to overcome that,” Auer said. “And we had a chance to.”
Maize 57, Hutchinson 42 – After fading in the second half of a 25-point quarterfinal loss to Heights, Maize bounced back with its second victory of the season over Hutchinson to advance to the fifth-place game.
“I think they did a much, much better job of doing the things we ask them to do every day,” Maize coach Chris Grill said. “Tonight, we shot the ball pretty well early and pushed them out of their zone. Once we got them out of their zone, we were able to run some more of our offensive sets.”
Maize (7-3) shot 54 percent in the first half and hit five three-pointers to build a 32-16 halftime lead. Senior guard Cortlin Standifer finished with 15 points and five assists for Maize, which will play Blue Valley West on Saturday. Senior forward Matthew LeBegue added 10 points.
“It’s rare that he doesn’t come out and play well,” Grill said of Standifer, a Northwest transfer. “Tonight, he was getting some shots to fall and getting to the basket. He’s also the kind of player who, when he’s got somebody open, is going to get them the ball and they’re going to score.”
Hutchinson (1-9) got 12 points from Trent Webster. The Salthawks will play Mill Valley for seventh.
HEIGHTS: Hervey 10, Lowe 6, Patrick 5, Bahner 9, McCray 1, Williams 5, Gill 14. Totals 20 (3) 7-10 50.
MCPHERSON: D. Pyle 13, B. Pyle 2, Kinnamon 13, Stephens 18, Wine 4, Nutter 4, Gabel 4. Totals 12 (4) 30-36 58.
MAIZE: Standifer 15, Goode 2, Bugbee 6, K. Johnson 9, Schultz 5, Spence 2, Ledbetter 3, LeBegue 10, D. Johnson 5. Totals 22 (6) 7-10 57.
HUTCHINSON: Howard 5, Webster 12, Fee 4, Wintz 9, Middleton 4, Stoecklien 2, Faucett 3, Maldanado 3. Totals 11 (2) 18-27 42.