TOPEKA — Following a 63-49 loss to Washburn Rural on Friday night, East boys coach Ron Allen said he felt as if his team could have won. It had the athletes, the training and the experience to advance to the Class 6A tournament.
It was obvious Washburn Rural fans felt the same way, because seconds after the teams shook hands, the student section rushed the court and thrust its overwhelmed players in the air in celebration.
It was a physical game. It was an emotional game, and in the end East had a meltdown at the worst time.
"That was probably the worst fourth quarter that I've seen from this group all year," Allen said. "We've never played that bad. It would be unfortunate that they would play that bad at this particular time."
East held a 42-38 lead with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter, but then the shooting woes began. East didn't score for three minutes, struggling with Rural's zone defense. Nathan Jackson's jumper with 2:50 left stopped a 9-0 Washburn Rural run momentarily.
"I'm holding myself accountable," Allen said. "I really thought we were prepared — prepared to do whatever. Man. Zone. Press. Whatever they wanted to do we were prepared. We just didn't execute. That's on them."
The Aces went 0 for 9 from the field over the next 1:40 while Rural added to its lead. Washburn Rural had been getting to the foul line — it attempted 36 free throws to East's 11. That coupled with ineffectiveness offensively started to wear on the players' judgment.
"We didn't put the ball in the hole, and we panicked," Allen said.
With his team trailing 52-44 with 1:50 left, East's Jalen Love (10 points) picked up the team's first technical foul. Then with 33 seconds left, Ja'ln Williams got an intentional foul. Ronnie McFann then received two technicals seconds later.
"He lost his composure. That's just the bottom line," Allen said. "Ronnie is a fierce competitor, but there's no place for that type of behavior. We don't allow that in our program.æ.æ.æ. He just lost his head in a heated game like this. I really thought it could have been handled differently. Just T him up. He was going to come out of the game. But to throw the second one on him? In my whole 30 years of coaching I've never seen a player thrown out. I've seen a coach or two but never a player."
East (16-6) 12 15 9 13 — 49
Washburn Rural (18-4) 9 17 10 27 — 63
EAST: Williams 3 2-8 9, Love 4 0-0 10, Jackson 3 0-0 6, Melbert 3 0-0 6, McFann 1 0-0 2, Dennis 1 0-0 3, Graham 0 1-2 1, Normore 1 0-0 3, Johnson 3 0-0 7, Terrell 0 2-3 2. Totals 20 (6) 3-11 49.
WASHBURN RURAL:Wright 2 5-6 10, Roe 1 0-0 2, Woodard 1 0-0 3, Sweet 4 8-12 17, Wynne 1 4-7 6, Rowell 4 3-4 11, Werner 1 2-2 4, Ediger 4 2-5 10. Totals 18 (3) 24-36 63.