Basketball is considered religion in McPherson, therefore there is nothing more important than the McPherson Invitational.
The town swarms to the Roundhouse every Saturday in the middle of January to root for their Bullpups, more often than not in the championship game.
Kyler Kinnamon, the son of coach Kurt Kinnamon, grew up coming to the games. He yearned to be on the court with his father’s team, to play and to win a McPherson Invitational.
Kinnamon played out his dream on Saturday night, leading McPherson past previously-undefeated Shawnee Mission East 53-40 and being named the tournament’s MVP.
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“You look forward to it growing up,” said Kyler Kinnamon, who scored 16 points and was 12 of 13 from the free-throw line. “It was a great experience. It’s really special to win it here in front of everybody, especially with my dad coaching me.”
Facing a tremendous height advantage in the post, Kurt Kinnamon was brilliant in switching his defenses to combat the size of SM East. McPherson didn’t just hold its own; it won the rebounding battle, 33-30.
On top of that the Bullpups held East’s two stars, Vance Wentz and Zach Schneider, to 4-of-23 shooting. Kurt Kinnamon credited the defense of seniors Marcus Houghton and Keaton Sorenson (12 points, 10 rebounds).
“Marcus is a tough, tough kid,” the coach said. “He is one competitive kid that you want on your side, regardless. Keaton was jumping six inches higher than I’ve ever seen him. He was pursuing balls. He was catching balls.”
SM East entered with an undefeated record against a rigorous schedule from the northeast part of the state. But the Bullpups never played like the underdog, forcing SM East to burn a timeout four minutes in after a 9-2 run to start the game.
“I don’t think our team ever thought we were the underdog,” Sorenson said. “Maybe everybody else did, but we were pretty confident about it.”
After that it was Kyler Kinnamon, who has been given control of the team as a sophomore point guard, guiding McPherson to the title.
Facing the length of SM East, Kinnamon not only handled the difficult angles but attacked in ways that flipped them into advantages for the Bullpups.
After SM East cut the lead to 33-32 with 4:23 remaining, it was him that sealed the victory by making eight straight free throws in part of a 20-8 run to close the game.
Saturday night, Kyler Kinnamon let an entire audience in to what he’s been imagining ever since he was a child sitting behind his father’s bench during games.
“He’s a fierce, fierce competitor,” Kurt Kinnamon said. “Does not like to lose. A bad loser. We usually find that our bad losers are our best competitors. It’s a lot of fun coaching this whole group and it’s a lot of fun coaching my own kid, no doubt about it.”
Heights 54, Blue Valley West 51 — Heights coach Joe Auer was 47 before the Falcons played in the third-place game. He told his team after they’re accelerating the aging process with their play in close games.
“Now I’m 64,” Auer said.
But Auer can say that in relief after watching his team’s 6-for-16 free-throw performance in the final two minutes nearly let a nine-point lead slip away.
After five years with immense pressure on Auer to win, Heights is enjoying its new role minus the towering expectations.
“The last few years if we slipped up once you feel like you failed,” Auer said. “Now we’re enjoying more of the little things. We’re enjoying going out to eat after games. Evan Wessel used to say every one of my jokes were bad. I think my jokes are better now. All of my tactics are reinvigorated.”
Ealy Bell and Chris Reed each scored 15 points for Heights (7-4).
Now the Falcons head back to the City League having won six of their last seven games, the most quality of which came Saturday against a much larger BV West team.
“I think we’ve shown this week that we’re going to be a threat,” Bell said. “We’re starting to really come together and play as a team. It feels good.”
Hutchinson 61, Maize 59 — After losing in overtime then by two points, Hutchinson finally won a close game against Maize. Senior Trevor Turner made three free throws in the final minute and a last-second shot by Maize’s Tavon Morrow missed to break the close loss streak for Hutch.
“That’s what you play for, the close games,” said Turner, who finished with 16 points. “Winning one finally, it gives us a big boost in our confidence. And even losing those games, we know that it’s going to help make us a better team later because we fought through adversity.”
After trailing 34-25 at halftime, Hutchinson responded with a 23-point third quarter led by Tanner Higgins (18 points). Maize briefly took the lead, 59-58, with 50 seconds left but Turner scored the final three points at the free-throw line.
Maize (2-9) had three scorers in double-figures with Jacob Horsch (12 points), Tavon Morrow (12) and Caleb Wilcox (11).
“I think that was really crucial, at least mentally, for our kids,” Hutchinson coach Nathan Henry said.
McPherson: Kinnamon 16, Houghton 8, R. Horton 7, P. Horton 10, Sorenson 12, Stos 0, Bahr 0. Totals 15 (3) 20-29 53.
SM East: Hanna 9, McGannon 0, Wentz 8, Schneider 5, Jones 6, Sublette 2, Knabe 2, Rellihan 6, Tuttle 2. Totals 14 (6) 6-8 40.
Heights: Lowe 2 5-9 9, Reed 5 5-7 15, Bell 6 3-11 15, Moreland 1 0-0 2, C. Ellis 2 0-0 4, Hervey 1 3-4 5, Williams 0 0-0 0, Wilbeck 1 0-0 2, Arnold 1 0-0 2, B. Ellis 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 (0) 16-31 54.
BV West: Kaiser 4 6-8 14, Wilkins 1 2-4 4, Ralston 4 2-2 10, Gammon 1 0-0 2, Lillis 8 2-4 18, Roy 1 0-0 2, Curtis 0 0-0 0, Martin 0 1-2 1. Totals 19 (0) 13-20 51.
Hutchinson: Higgins 18, Wells 9, T. Turner 16, C. Turner 4, Dower 7, Arnold 0, Parra 1, Slaton 0, Grissom-Gaines 4, Ackley 2, Wintz 0. Totals 19 (6) 17-21 61.
Maize: Horsch 12, Wilcox 11, Eleeson 4, Lungwitz 9, Luebbe 3, Morrow 12, Holmes 0, Shaw 6, Engler 2. Totals 21 (7) 10-17 59.