Heights boys basketball championship teams of the recent past often fell back on the incredible things their star players could do. If the Falcons ever entered a cold spell, they often broke it with a dazzling play that opponents couldn’t equal.
Heights still has the capability to dazzle, as evidenced by Perry Ellis’ 29 points Thursday in the Falcons’ 52-31 win over Olathe East in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A tournament.
But the Falcons’ slumps aren’t usually stopped by an alley-oop, a breakaway dunk or a deep three-pointer. They’re busted instead by a dedicated defense making an important stop or the selfless effort it takes to grab an offensive rebound. Heights uses sizzle to supplement its spunk.
The star players can still energize, but the Falcons get as much of a boost from intangibles, which makes them as dangerous as the teams that have won the last three 6A championships.
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The Falcons moved a step toward making it four straight, and they play Blue Valley North in the semifinals tonight at Koch Arena.
"It’s really getting rebounds and staying in front and doing our defensive assignments," Heights senior Gabe Lynch said. "It’s not about the offense. We’ve got stars and that’s hard to beat, but really we’ve got to stay focused on defense and do what the coaches say."
Heights coach Joe Auer mentioned his team’s fast start as a reason the Falcons are moving on to the semifinals, but it wasn’t a blazing beginning on all fronts.
The Falcons missed 19 of 29 shots in the first half, and without the production of guard Terrence Moore, who scored 11 points in the half, Heights’ 24-15 lead wouldn’t have been nearly as comfortable.
A box-and-one on Gavin Thurman kept the other four players grouped tightly near Ellis in the lane, and Ellis took three shots in the first half, scoring seven points.
The lead was built primarily by keeping Olathe East from scoring. Defense by Moore and Ealy Bell kept the Hawks locked down, and Bell and Lynch combined for six offensive rebounds before halftime.
"Ealy’s role is to be the best on-ball defender, which he is, in the state of Kansas," Lynch said. "My job is to lead the team, which I did tonight. The other three (starters Ellis, Moore and Thurman) handle their business. That’s all we do, play our roles."
Heights’ grit translated to flashiness in the second half. Ellis found it much easier to get the ball, a combination of his elevated aggressiveness and Olathe East’s softening defense, and he missed one shot after halftime."You don’t win without a group effort," Auer said. "Most of the season, all you hear about is individual things. But there’s nothing individual about what we’re doing now. It’s all about a collective effort. You’re not going to win a championship without about eight or nine pieces doing their thing and doing it very well."
Blue Valley North 76, Wichita North 49 — North hasn’t matched up physically with many opponents this season, but the Redskins have Conner Frankamp, and he makes up for a lot of deficiencies.
North’s limitations can become fatal flaws if Frankamp has an off night and the Redskins have nothing to offset the opposing team’s advantages.
That’s what happened Thursday — Frankamp missed 15 of 21 shots, scoring 16 points, and North couldn’t slow down BV North. The Mustangs shot 55 percent, outrebounded North 41-23, and had its way against North’s smaller, slower players.
"Defense just wasn’t there tonight," North coach Gary Squires said. "I’ve got to give credit, they shot the ball really well. The height’s not there inside, but they’ve got three or four guys that can really shoot it."
Frankamp, who averages 33.1 points, missed his first four shots and eight of his first 10. He was unable to rally the Redskins as BV North built a significant lead with a 20-4 run in the second quarter. The Mustangs led 37-21 at half.
"I just tried to play my regular game," Frankamp said. "I thought a lot of my shots were going in — they all looked pretty good and a lot of them were in and out. I played terrible tonight, I thought. I felt like I let myself down and I let my team down, too."