TOPEKA – The desperation.
The sense of helplessness.
The sinking feeling when the window to a dream slammed shut sooner than expected.
It’s becoming all too familiar to the Eisenhower boys basketball team when it comes to Topeka, as the Kansas Expocentre is becoming a place of haunted memories.
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For the third time Eisenhower came to the Class 5A tournament on Thursday as a high seed, this time the top one, and for the third time it exited in the first round after Kansas City Washington etched the latest chapter, via a 69-62 win, in Eisenhower’s history of upset losses.
“At some point we’re going to get over that hump,” Eisenhower coach Steve Blue offered up afterward. “Maybe we need to be an eight seed or a seven seed and wear our dark uniforms.”
It’s the only mentality to take after Eisenhower watched its 21-1 season come to an end by allowing 45 second-half points and Washington to erase an 8-point lead with an extended 27-12 run to close out the game.
DeMarco Smith scored 26 points, 17 of them in the second half, and added 15 rebounds to lead Washington, which will play Mill Valley in Friday’s semifinals.
“Nobody expected this,” Washington coach Eric King said. “We’re on top of the world right now.”
Eisenhower built leads of 31-19, in the second quarter, and 41-32, in the third quarter, because Washington simply couldn’t stop Matt Pile, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds through three quarters.
But after a 7-0 spurt by Washington to close out the third quarter that put Eisenhower in its first deficit, 48-47, of the game, the Tigers stopped feeding their 6-foot-8 junior in the post.
The result was 5-of-14 shooting in the fourth quarter, as Pile took just two shots and scored two points to finish the game with 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting and 17 rebounds.
“Matt played incredible,” Blue said. “The only thing that was wrong was he didn’t get the ball enough. He should have got more touches.”
It’s a compelling argument after the other six players on Eisenhower combined for 29-percent (13 of 44) shooting. Sophomore Dylan Vincent, who averaged 18.1 points during the season, finished with nine on 2-of-18 shooting.
Tanner King scored 10 points off the bench for Eisenhower, making all four of his shots.
“This one hurts because we felt like we were in control of the game,” Blue said. “We felt like we missed a few opportunities to push the lead out even more and it came back to bite us. We should have put them away earlier, but we let them hang around, hang around, and then you saw the result.”
KC WASHINGTON: Dawn 4-17 2-4 11, Campbell 4-11 2-2 10, Ervin 2-4 2-2 6, Wilborn 5-8 0-0 10, Smith 11-21 2-2 26, Williams 1-1 0-0 3, Henderson 0-1 1-2 1, Batie 0-1 0-0 0, Hoy 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 28-66 9-12 69.
EISENHOWER: Strunk 2-6 1-4 5, Vincent 2-18 3-4 9, Taliaferro 3-7 0-0 8, Brown 1-7 0-0 3, Pile 11-16 3-5 25, Riggan 1-2 0-0 2, King 4-4 1-4 10. Totals 24-60 8-17 62.
Three-point shooting – KC Washington 4-10 (Smith 2-4, Williams 1-1, Dawn 1-4, Batie 0-1), Eisenhower 6-25 (Taliaferro 2-6, Vincent 2-11, King 1-1, Brown 1-5, Strunk 0-1, Pile 0-1). Rebounds – KC Washington 38 (Smith 15), Eisenhower 35 (Pile 17). Fouls – KC Washington 16, Eisenhower 15.