Varsity Kansas

Day 2: Tournament of Champions


This win cannot be understated for a team like Hutchinson, which prides itself on its effort rather than natural ability. The Salt Hawks are no strangers to frustrating opponents, as it is almost typical now that they hold teams under their scoring average, but more times than not games end with a pat on the back for Hutchinson and a congratulations for keeping the game closer than it should be. Now Hutchinson has a marquee win to its name, and the confidence moving forward in its backpocket. ”Now the kids know they can compete with a team of that caliber,” Hutchinson coach Nathan Henry said. “We have some great teams in our sub-state, so being able to hang in there with a team as good as Heights will be huge for us from a mental standpoint.”

It’s pretty amazing to think about the contrasting styles of these two teams. Heights has players such as Ealy Bell, Semaj Hervey, Davon Gill, and a few other prospects that will probably be playing basketball in college. Hutchinson will have no such players playing collegiate basketball; instead it relies on players like Braydon Wells, a 5-foot-6 spark plug for the Salt Hawks. So how can a team like Hutch beat a team like Heights? “It’s just the fight,” Wells said. “Most of our guys play football and we know how to grind. We keep competing. It’s high school basketball, so talent doesn’t always win; it’s who wants it more. We pride ourselves in that, and I think that’s why we came out with the ‘W’ today.”

Wells wasn’t the reason why Hutchinson won against Heights, but he certainly was a big one. If I’m making a list of players that I enjoy watching play the game, he is on it. Why? It’s not because he can throw down amazing dunks or go off for 30 points. It’s because he plays the game the right way. He has such a good awareness on the court and a great IQ for making basketball plays, despite not having the height of the other players on the court. His stats in the TOC are impressive (9.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals) but they do not tell half the story to Wells. His presence is invaluable and if you don’t believe me, then listen to his coach talk about him: “Braydon is a guy that competes from bell to bell, no matter what the score is. I think a lot of people can learn something from watching him play. Some kids have the tendency to hang their head when things get tough. And he’ll be the first person to tell you his competitiveness gets the best of him sometimes. But at the same time, I would take a guy like that over someone who is going to hang their head when they get down.”


If I would have told Heights coach Joe Auer that his team would only allow 45 points in the first two games of the TOC, there’s only one response you could expect. “Who are we playing in the finals?” Auer said after Heights dropped its second game in Dodge City after an anemic offense squandered another fine defensive performance by the Falcons.

I don’t want to take anything away from a fine defensive performance by Hutchinson, but Heights missed a lot of simple shots. A lot of shots right at the rim. A lot of shots in the paint. Even more free throws. In fact, Heights missed 9 of 11 free throws in the second and shot a miserable 26.7 percent from the line for the game (4 of 15). On top of that, Heights was 3 of 12 on 2-pointers in the second half. “How were we even in the game,” Auer remarked afterwards. “If you’re going to represent Heights and win, then you’re going to have to score more than we’re scoring.”

This is a Heights team that started 8-1 and averaged better than 63 points against a difficult schedule. Now the Falcons are 0-2 in Dodge City and averaging 44.5 points. “We’ve come here and shot the ball incredibly poorly,” Auer admitted. “It’s not anything complicated. I don’t think it’s symptomatic of anything. We got up enough shots and we were aggressive to getting to the free throw line; we just didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.

That’s fine, but is this a minor blip on the radar for Heights, which is still in control of the No. 1 seed in its sub-state, or has Dodge City exposed a serious flaw in the Falcons? Auer thinks its the latter. I tend to agree with him. There’s no way Heights will shoot this poorly moving forward. There’s no denying the Falcons are not a good outside shooting team, but they don’t have to be – even against a zone. Heights usually does well enough penetrating and finishing in the paint (something it didn’t do in Dodge City) that it will be fine moving forward. But I do think this raises a lot of red flags about Heights’ potential if it reaches the state tournament. If the Falcons reach Topeka, they must be better than this or else they will face an early round exit. Does Heights have the potential to turn this around? Absolutely, and I think it will. “We are in a funk, it happens,” Auer said. “We’ll be fine. I’ve been around long enough to know we are having a heck of a time scoring the ball. It will go away. It sure would be a lot more fun if it didn’t rear its ugly head, but there’s no pouting or sulking with our guys. It’s just frustrating.”

FINAL: Hutchinson 45, Heights 43

Another stunning loss for the Falcons, which now have lost both of their games in Dodge City. We’ll get to the ramifications later, but for now let’s talk about how this one happened. Heights stumbled through another poor offensive performance, but actually held a 40-38 lead with 3 minutes to go in the game. The Falcons were so poor offensively, and yet still had an excellent chance to take home this win. After Heights took a 42-40 lead with 2 minutes left, its aggressive zone was caught scrambling by an excellent skip pass to a wide open Kalen Hilst, who connected on his fourth three-pointer of the game, for a 43-42 lead with 1:39 left. Heights was atrocious from the free-throw line, missing 9 of 11 in the second half, but did hit one down the stretch to tie the score at 43 with 52 seconds left. Then Hutchinson put on a clinic on how to handle pressure, maintain possession, and run clock. Hutchinson took off 40 seconds before finding Ryan Stoecklien coming off a screen and hit him for an easy basket for a 45-43 lead with 9 seconds left. It was beautiful execution. Heights coach Joe Auer choose not to call a timeout and let his guys attack in the moment. Semaj Hervey tried to breach Hutch’s zone, but backed out and had the ball poked out but Hutch was called for a foul with 1.3 seconds left. Hervey would have 2 shots, down 2. He missed the first, which forced his hand for the second. After a few timeouts, Hervey missed purposefully, but this time there was no magic from Ealy Bell to save the Falcons. I’ll be back soon with a reaction for what this means for both teams.

3rd Quarter: Heights 34, Hutchinson 34

We remain locked on the scoreboard, which undoubtedly favors Hutchinson. The Salthawks have been wonderful in sticking around in this game and keeping Heights from doing what it does best. Hutchinson briefly pulled away, 34-29, after Kalen Hilst connected on his 3rd three-pointer. But Heights ended the quarter on a rally, a 5-0 spurt, that ties the game back up. If Heights can bottle that energy and bring it in the fourth quarter, there is still plenty of time for it to turn this game around. The longer Hutch is able to stick around, the better its upset chances are.

2nd Quarter: Heights 26, Hutchinson 26

Heights’ shooting woes continue. The Falcons have missed 9 of their 10 three-pointers, and have missed several of their outside jumpers. Credit Hutchinson for baiting Heights into shooting more perimeter shots than it wants to. Hutch has survived solely on its three-point shot, as it has made 4 of its 7 attempts with Kalen Hilst, who hit three yesterday, has two more so far in this game. Heights has done everything well but shoot the ball. It has done a fairly decent job of defense, is crashing the boards extremely well (12 offensive rebounds) and has forced nine Hutchinson turnovers.

Hutch actually got in a hole, 23-11, but avoided getting buried and actually reversed the momentum by reeling off a 15-3 run to take the lead. The Salthawks probably are a little miffed that they don’t have the lead, actually. And for Heights, to be tied at halftime, shooting this bad, it probably feels just a bit fortunate.

1st Quarter: Heights 11, Hutchinson 10

Nothing surprising to report, thus far. Hutchinson is doing a lot of the same things that Manhattan was successful with yesterday. Heights isn’t going to play the style it wants to, but it is capable of winning these half-court affairs. The Falcons just have to make shots, which they have yet to do so far in Dodge City. We’ll see if the Falcons can piece anything together in this second quarter; it’s looking like it’s going to be difficult for Hutchinson to score many more than 40 in this game.

Pre-Game: Heights (8-2) vs. Hutchinson (3-7)

This will be another interesting match-up, solely because I am intrigued by Heights and its ongoing shooting struggles. A day after trying to navigate around a flat 3-2 zone, Heights will once again be seeing a steady diet of zone defense from the Salthawks. There’s no question the Falcons will have the advantage when it comes to height, speed, quickness, and athleticism. But Hutchinson does about as good of job as any team in masking its deficiencies. How will Heights respond today, in the consolation bracket?

Hutchinson will wear its home whites and start Braydon Wells, Radley Arnold, and Trent Webster in its backcourt with Ryan Stoecklien and Jezel Parra in the frontcourt. Heights will trot out Semaj Hervey, Arie Johnson, Ealy Bell, Davon Gill, and Cameron Ellis.