Southeast closed down its old gym in the best way possible – wrapping up a state tournament berth.
But it was far from being easy. The Buffaloes trailed by as many as 10 points to Free State before rallying to send the Class 6A sub-state game into overtime and wearing down the Firebirds for a 79-77 victory on Saturday night.
“That was hardcore, man, I’m struggling with that,” Southeast coach Melvin Herring said, his eyes red with emotion.
“It’s just a rich tradition. (Saturday’s) game was vintage Carl Taylor-Southeast basketball. To finish the last game on a sub-state game, to get that win, all the guys that played here who came back to watch this game, I guarantee you we sparked a flame in their hearts.”
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City League scoring leader Jerrick Harding scored 35 points, and sophomore teammate Israel Barnes had 29.
Herring said the game, the last played at Southeast before a new school opens this fall, was a great challenge for his club.
“We needed this game," he said. “We needed a wakeup call. We got our rhythm, and we started playing with more intensity.”
The Buffaloes will take an 18-4 record into next week’s tournament at Koch Arena, but early on Free State held the upper hand.
The Firebirds ended the first quarter on a 13-3 run, then stretched the lead to 30-20 with 3:32 before halftime.
Herring said his instructions were simple.
“I told them just pick up and play our basketball,” he said. “Down 10, I just kept on harping on the principles of what we do, and to get back into the game, we needed to pick up the intensity on the defensive end, and the kids did that.
“They stepped up big.”
But Southeast then put together a 12-4 run of its own, pulling to within 34-32 at the break.
Harding scored nine of the points in the run and might have had more had he not missed two free throws as time expired.
“I’m very proud of him, because I stood there and watched him, I wanted to see his character after he shot them and he missed them,” Herring said. “He sprinted off the court. (Missing the free throws) lit that fire in that young man.”
However, he had 15 second-half points and atoned for his free-throw misses by hitting all four of his foul shots in overtime.
Barnes made all seven of his free throws in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
But Herring emphasized that it was a combined effort.
“It was the other guys that got us this win,” he said. “DeAndre Franklin got into foul trouble, and Brycen Cobbins came in the game. He really sparked the intensity for us. Once Brycen did that, the other guys started stepping up for us.
“It was a solid team effort for us. Everybody did their role, and we’re very thankful for the win.”
Free State: Rawls 18, Wilburn 21, Dineen 7, Tochtrop 2, Thomas 2, Pavlyak 4, Cordes 1, Gudde 18, Lewis 4.
Southeast: Barnes 29, Manns 6, Franklin 1, Harding 35, Cobbins 1, Brown 7.