Olathe East held Shawnee Mission Northwest to just two points in the third quarter, turning a five-point halftime lead into a 54-40 victory Saturday in the championship game of the 22nd Annual Saints Classic at Aquinas.
By CHARLES REDFIELD
Special to The Star
With 5:20 left in the second quarter, the Hawks made a key tactical switch, shifting from their man-to-man defense to a zone.
“We called it our white zone,” Olathe East coach Jim Super said. “We thought we could cover their two guys who like to take outside shots and restrict how they were getting inside (against the man defense).”
The zone limited the Cougars to just two free throws by senior Jake Horner in the third quarter.
Olathe East’s Ezra Talbert, a 6-7 senior, had two early fouls and had to sit out much of the first half.
“The two early fouls really hurt me,” he said. “I couldn’t get in the flow of the game.”
The senior did have a 25-foot three-pointer from the top of the circle with 2.2 seconds left in the half to provide the Hawks with their 26-21 margin.
The Cougars feasted at the free-throw line in the first half, cashing in 13 foul shots on 13 Hawks’ fouls.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Olathe East had a 38-23 advantage. But the Cougars, who saw their six-game winning streak snapped, cut the margin to 43-35 with 3:33 left on a three-point shot by senior Keaton Cross.
Over the next 1:13, Olathe East replied with an 8-2 run: Senior Caelen Neal had a driving layup, a three-point shot by senior Brady Kaemmer and a conventional three-point play by Talbert. That gave the Hawks a 48-37 advantage with 2:20 left in the game.
Neal, who was named the MVP by tournament officials, was the leading scorer on the night with 16 points, all of them coming on drives through the heart of the Cougars defense.
“Being named the MVP feels good,” he said. “I have been improving and all my hard work is paying off.”
Talbert, who was named to the all-tournament team, ended the game with 12 points, and senior Justin Matthews added 11 points with three three-pointers. He won the tournament three-point shooting contest.
The victory for the 11-1 Hawks was their 10th in a row after losing to Barstow in the second game of the season.
The Cougars fell to 9-3, but both teams are undefeated in Sunflower League play. They meet in a league game at Olathe East on Feb. 18.
Senior Brady Skeens, who was named to the all-tournament team, led the Cougars with 14 points.