Young legs may never tire, but a long, cold winter of basketball can sometimes wear down even the most energetic high school athletes. It was easy to see last weekend when Maize hit just 4 of 15 free throws in a tournament game in Dodge City.
Maize coach Chris Davis knew what was going on.
“It’s such a grind right now this time of year,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of close games down the stretch, and we’ve won a lot of close games. I know people are tired of hearing it, but seniors make plays for you and carry you during these times.”
Tired legs aside, the Eagles were able to overcome the grind Tuesday night at home against Andover Central. An energy-draining contest that saw seven ties and 11 lead changes came down to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Led by seniors Jacob Horsch and Kaven Jobe, Maize hit 12 of 15 foul shots in the final seven minutes to seal a 54-48 win.
Davis said the highly improved free throw performance didn’t come from an added emphasis in free throw shooting. In fact, he took the opposite approach.
“If you draw too much attention to it, it’s going to get worse,” he said. “I did challenge them Saturday night to get out on their own and shoot free throws, and they have the extra time. But the more attention you draw to it, the more pressure.”
Another close win for Maize, which trailed by six with five minutes left, answered some questions for Davis.
“It was a gut check for us, without question,” he said. “We just played three games over the weekend at the toughest tournament in the state of Kansas in Dodge City and you’re always worried if you can bounce back, but good teams find a way and we just found a way to make some stops.”
Andover Central sophomore Darraja Parnell controlled the game early with 16 first-half points. The Jaguars’ 10-0 run late in the first quarter erased a 9-1 deficit and gave the visiting team the momentum.
“We didn’t guard our shadow in the first half,” Davis said. “But I thought in the second half we did a great job, and we made (Parnell) earn what he got.”
Parnell scored just once in the third quarter and finished with 23 points. Jobe, who guarded Parnell most of the game, got help on the defensive end in the second half.
“We knew we had to help,” junior point guard Ky-Sean Johnson said. “Our whole team had to drop down and help when we could.”
Johnson, who had six points through three quarters, took over in the fourth quarter just when Andover Central seemed ready to pull away. Jaguar senior Christian DeYoung hit a step-back three-pointer for a 35-33 lead a minute into the fourth quarter and later hit a three from the right wing after an offensive rebound for a six-point lead.
But Andover Central’s largest lead of the game quickly fell apart when Johnson scored the next 10 points for the home team as part of a 17-4 run. Maize, which had 21 points at halftime, scored 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“The first three quarters we didn’t do too bad, but the fourth we locked in,” Johnson said. “We knew it would be a dogfight, but we knew we’d pull it out in the end.”
Johnson finished with 17 points, while Shaw added 12.