In the world Joe Auer has created for Heights, the idea of winning with style has been banished.
The grace and ease associated with how the four-time defending Class 6A champions played has faded, but the wins haven’t stopped for Heights. After Thursday’s 50-45 triumph in overtime against Hutchinson at the McPherson Invitational, the Falcons have won five in a row.
Many of them have come as Thursday’s did — Heights had just 13 points at halftime but fought back.
The Falcons advanced to the semifinals and will play the host Bullpups on .
“As long as we keep winning, that’s all that matters,” Heights junior Ealy Bell said.
Heights is winning, not because of its offense, which disappeared for the majority of the first three quarters, but because of its defense. During the winning streak, Heights has not allowed an opponent to score more than 45 points.
“There’s never going to be a game for us this year where it’s not going to be a dog fight,” Auer said. “The league we play in, the tournament we play in, we have to be prepared to do that every single night.”
The game, which was a rematch of a Jan. 4 game that Heights won 45-43, was controlled by Hutchinson. The Salthawks built an 8-point lead in the second half and led 36-32 with 1:56 remaining in regulation.
But when Heights was most desperate for points, it converted. Bell scored on back-to-back possessions to tie it and neither team could convert on their last shots, forcing overtime.
“Most teams that are struggling that much to score start jacking up poor shots,” Auer said. “But I thought we ran our best offense when we had our backs to the wall.”
Heights dominated the opening of the extra period, scoring the first eight points for a 44-36 lead with 1:09 left. But the Falcons missed seven free throws in overtime and allowed Hutchinson to cut the lead to one point with seven seconds left.
Bell was fouled and made two free throws for a 3-point lead and Tanner Higgins missed an open three-pointer that would have forced double-overtime. Bell finished with a game-high 19 points.
“That’s just having heart, having the belief that you can still come back,” Hutch coach Nathan Henry said. “To even be in that situation, I was very proud of the kids.”
It might look a little different, but Heights is not worried as long as the end result is the same.
“We could have easily given up,” Heights senior Chris Reed said. “But we stick together and we have to do things more as a team this year. We have to keep doing what we do best.”
SM East 64, Maize 47 — Maize was outsized and overmatched against undefeated SM East,.
SM East looked ready to win without much resistance after taking a 34-23 halftime lead, but Maize showed its resiliency by cutting the lead to five points with five minutes to play.
“We played like Jane in the first half,” Maize coach Chris Davis said. “Then in the second half we played like Tarzan. We were men. We played the way we have tried to teach them to play all year.”
Scoring against a lanky SM East squad down the stretch was too difficult of a proposition. Maize finished shooting 37 percent for the game.
Tavon Morrow led Maize in scoring with 21 points, while Vance Wentz (23) and Zach Schneider (19) combined for 42 points for SM East. The Lancers advance to the semifinals against Blue Valley West, while Maize will play Manhattan in the consolation bracket.
McPherson 53, Lawrence Free State 44 — The Firebirds tied the score at 39 in the fourth quarter, but the host Bullpups scored 12 points in a row and ended the game on a 14-5 run to advance to the semifinals against Heights.
McPherson grabbed control when Peter Horton broke the tie with a three-pointer, then blocked a shot on defense and drained another three to extend the lead to six. Horton had only scored two points before those shots and finished with 10.
“That changed the game for us right there,” McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon said. “Those were some big shots for him. He’s a good shooter and now he has the confidence that he can make those for us.”
Keaton Sorenson led McPherson with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Division-I prospect Khadre Lane scored a game-high 19 points for Free State.
Heights 50, Hutch 45
HUTCHINSON: Higgins 1 0-0 2, Wells 2 1-1 6, T. Turner 4 0-0 8, C. Turner 0 2-2 2, Dower 3 3-5 9, Parra 2 1-4 5, Slaton 3 0-0 8, Grissom-Gaines 0 0-0 0, Ackley 2 0-0 5. Totals 17 (4) 7-12 45.
HEIGHTS: Hervey 1 6-7 9, Lowe 4 2-3 12, Reed 3 2-4 8, Bell 7 5-9 19, C. Ellis 1 0-3 2, Moreland 0 0-0 0, Wilbeck 0 0-0 0, Arnold 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 (3) 15-26 50.
SM East 64, Maize 47
MAIZE: Morrow 21, Wilcox 0, Eleeson 6, Lungwitz 6, Engler 2, Horsch 2, Stewart 0, Holmes 0, Shaw 3, Luebbe 7. Totals 16 (1) 14-23 47.
SM EAST: Knabe 0, Hanna 2, Z. Wentz 23, Schneider 19, Jones 10, Sublette 4, McGannon 2, Haverty 0, Perkins 0, Rellihan 0, Tuttle 2, J. Wentz 2. Totals 18 (1) 27-33 64.
McPherson 53, Free State 44
FREE STATE: Loneker 0, Caro 3, Moreano 10, Lane 19, Bannister 0, Winslow 0, We. Hack 0, Wi. Hack 0, Scott 12, McFarland 0, Anavberokhai 0, Heller 0. Totals 17 (7) 3-4 44.
McPHERSON: Kinnamon 10, Houghton 14, R. Horton 3, P. Horton 10, Sorenson 16, Stos 0, Bahr 0, Pyle 0, Wine 0, Nutter 0, Sewell 0, Gabel 0. Totals 19 (4) 11-21 53.