For 20 minutes during Thursday’s basketball practice, Eisenhower boys coach Steve Blue introduced the box-and-one defense. Just in case Maize South senior Payten Ricks went off offensively in Friday’s Class 5A sub-state championship.
Ricks did the expected, scoring 42 points. He hit three-pointers, he drove to the basket, he knocked down shots while falling backward.
“He was able to drive pretty much non-stop,” Eisenhower senior Noah Strunk said. “He’s too quick. He’s just really hard to keep in front. He’s just really smooth.”
With 6:36 remaining, though, Blue used the box-and-one — with Strunk guarding Ricks. It was a game-changer as Eisenhower held Ricks to one basket over the next six minutes to get the 73-65 win.
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Noah’s been our best defender all year. Every time we play someone, he guards their best player.… He’s more athletic than people give him credit for.
Eisenhower coach Steve Blue
Eisenhower (21-1) advances to the Class 5A tournament at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka next week.
“It’s amazing,” Strunk said. “It’s the first time I’ve been a part of a team playing to go to state. I’ve been a part of the one before, but I didn’t play. This is crazy for my senior year.”
It’s possible Eisenhower’s season would have ended if it hadn’t been for Blue’s defensive change.
“In practice, coach told us we probably wouldn’t run (the box-and-one),” Eisenhower junior Matt Pile said. “We just threw it in there to see if it would work. It worked better than we expected.… We couldn’t stop (Ricks), so we just put it in.”
Credit Strunk with the defensive success. At 6-foot-3, he’s got long arms and used his quickness to stay in front of Ricks.
“They closed the gaps for me to drive and forced my teammates to put up more shots,” said Ricks, who made 15 of 35 shots and 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.
42Maize South senior Payten Ricks’ points
20Eisenhower sophomore Dylan Vincent’s points
16Eisenhower junior Matt Pile’s points
17 Matt Pile’s rebounds
Blue waited until the fourth quarter to change up the defense in order to catch Maize South (11-11) off guard.
“Noah’s been our best defender all year,” Blue said. “Every time we play someone, he guards their best player.… He’s more athletic than people give him credit for.”
With Eisenhower controlling the pace by slowing Maize South offensively and then turning up the tempo when it got possession, the Tigers started to pull away.
On an inbounds play with 3:40 remaining, Pile found a wide-open Strunk inside for a 59-53 lead. Strunk, who scored 11 points, also had eight rebounds, seven offensive.
Maize South senior Payten Ricks scored 42 on 15-of-35 shooting. Maize South shot 23 of 65 as a team, while Eisenhower was 31-of-69 shooting.
Two possessions later, Eisenhower sophomore Tanner King, scored inside off an assist from sophomore Dylan Vincent. King finished with 12 points.
“We limited (Pile’s) opportunities to get to the boards, limited his scoring opportunities,” Maize South coach Kip Schultz said. “We wanted to make all the rest of their players step up. The King kid stepped up and had 12.”
Eisenhower senior Sonny Brown added seven points and three blocked shots, and Jack Taliaferro had seven points, five rebounds.
Ricks hit his third three of the game to get Maize South within 61-57 with 2:36 to go, but Eisenhower responded with Vincent lofting an alley-oop to Pile for the dunk.
Vincent had 20 points and seven rebounds, while Pile, who battled foul trouble, had 16 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks.
In the final minute, Pile got defensive rebounds on consecutive possessions, and Vincent scored uncontested layups on fast breaks.
Maize South: Ricks 42, Knoblauch 3, Wiedemann 9, Veenis 4, Jennings 7
Eisenhower: Strunk 11, Brown 7, Pile 16, Taliaferro 7, Vincent 20, King 12