With 1:19 to go in Saturday’s Class 4A-II boys basketball championship game, Maurice Evans stood up.
Until that point, Evans calmly cheered alma mater Collegiate. But as hysteria grew around him, Evans felt it, too – in the most understated way possible. It seemed then that Collegiate’s lead was safe, and the Spartans soon finished off a 68-49 win over Hugoton.
“I was really confident that they were prepared,” said Evans, a nine-year NBA guard. “Coach (Mitch Fiegel) is one of the best in the state.”
Collegiate (22-3) captured its first state championship since 2010 and gained some satisfaction following runner-up finishes last year and last fall in football.
“We took second place the last two times I’ve been in a state championship game,” Collegiate senior and quarterback Austin Waddell said. “It just feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Evans, who played at Collegiate from 1993-97 and helped the Spartans to the ’96 state championship before playing at Wichita State, Texas and in the NBA, sat in the third row with his young son on his lap.
Evans missed the Spartans’ Class 3A championship game last year, but everything seemed well-timed about this season. One month and one day following the death of senior Cameron Christian’s father, Chris, Collegiate finished off a bittersweet script.
Christian suffered a broken hand at the end of the regular season and wasn’t available for the Spartans’ postseason run.
“That’s 18 points a game we were missing, and it would have been easy for us to offer up excuses – and we didn’t do that,” Fiegel said. “I wasn’t going to let them do that. I still thought we had a good enough team to win it – I wasn’t sure. But we came together.
“I feel like they were doing it for Cam and doing it for Cam’s dad, and what a special moment.”
Collegiate, as it usually does, controlled the game defensively as Hugoton made 12 of 34 shots and committed 23 turnovers. Aside from fleeting stretches to begin the first three quarters, though, the Spartans were similarly searching for offense.
A collective jolt infused Collegiate in the fourth quarter. Cody McNerney scored seven points and had all six of his rebounds in the fourth; Waddell scored five consecutive points to push Collegiate’s lead to 51-41 with 3:45 to go.
Collegiate scored 29 fourth-quarter points from seven players, making its deficit with seven minutes to play a distant memory.
“We started noticing that they were trying to deny our shooters, so we just drove on them,” Waddell said. “We cleared out a side for one of our drivers and we just went to work.”
Fiegel paused when asked whether last season’s near-miss made Saturday’s win even sweeter. He never settled on a final answer, but immediately grasped the impact of a championship, Fiegel’s sixth.
“It’s a big defining moment for their careers,” Fiegel said. “You only have so many opportunities to be historically significant, and they’ve done that. They’re going to walk into that gym and there’s going to be a picture on the wall 30 years from now. There’s only one way to do that.”