TOPEKA — Heights coach Joe Auer wasn't pleased with his tough draw in the Washburn Rural sub-state and a third meeting against an athletic and well-coached Southeast team that had won six straight games.
But No. 1 Heights played its most balanced game of the season Friday in a 76-61 Class 6A sub-state championship victory over the Buffaloes.
"To be the No. 1 seed in the state, to be undefeated and our reward is to come here and play these guys?" Auer said. "They've been playing great basketball. They know everything we do. I knew we were going to have to come in and play our best game of the year, and I thought we did."
All Heights starters finished in double figures and guard EJ Dobbins had 10 points and 11 assists, his third double-double. Heights (22-0) heads to Koch Arena next week to try to win a third straight state championship.
Heights forward Perry Ellis, who usually lives at the free-throw line, didn't have a single free-throw attempt and Heights' offense ran just fine.
"Everyone stepped up," Ellis said. "Our starting five was in double figures. We played excellent defense, which led to good run-outs. That was how we got ahead."
Southeast (13-9), riding the hot hand of Hayden Harris, kept within striking distance for most of the first half, but Heights clamped down defensively and scored eight straight points before halftime.
Ellis finished off the run with a two high-flying alley-oops in a row. He caught the first one from Dobbins, his head narrowly missing the rim, and dunked with one hand. Seconds later, after a long rebound, Dreamius Smith (14 points) threw it off the backboard for Ellis. The second dunk gave Heights a 30-18 lead with 3:43 left in the half. The two plays had the packed Washburn Rural student section waiting for the next game chanting "Perry Ellis!"
"It all just starts with our defense," senior guard Evan Wessel said. "We've been working really hard on our defensive stances and the way we play defense as a team. It really showed tonight. When you come out and beat a team three times in a season, it is a real good sign for us."
Southeast coach Carl Taylor saw his team turn around its season, winning six games in a row before Friday. Hayden Harris had 20 points to lead the Buffs.
"It's too bad that we didn't play like that from the beginning," Taylor said. "But it's better late than never. It's unfortunate that we were in the same side of the bracket as with Heights. Heights has a damn-good ballclub, but we have to play the game. That's just way it is."
Heights (22-0) 19 19 17 21 — 76 Southeast (13-9) 12 14 16 17 — 61
HEIGHTS: Dobbins 3 3-3 10, Wessel 6 4-5 18, Smith 7 0-0 14, Moore 5 1-3 13, Degraffenread 1 0-0 2, Ellis 9 0-0 19. Totals 31 (6) 8-11 76.
SOUTHEAST: Williams 1 0-0 2, Brooks 3 1-2 8, Gunter 4 1-1 9, Ransom 4 0-0 10, Thurman 5 2-2 12, Harris 7 6-8 20. Totals 24 (3) 10-13 61.