Blue Valley Northwest senior Darien Jackson remembers what it’s like to play in the state final.
He was a freshman in 2014, the year BV Northwest repeated as Class 6A champions. He wasn’t a starter yet, nor was he committed to Tulsa at the time. Playing Division I basketball was still years down the road.
Jackson is both of those things now, and he’s eager to be a headliner on a potential state-champion Huskies team. That wish could come true this weekend. Blue Valley Northwest, the No. 1 seed in the boys’ basketball tournament, beat Garden City 70-54 in the state quarterfinals Wednesday night at Charles Koch Arena.
“We had tournament experience last year but we came up short,” Jackson said. “We feel like we’ve grown and matured. This year we’re ready to hopefully get rings.”
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Jackson is the only Blue Valley Northwest upperclassman who’s hoisted a state basketball championship trophy. At the end of this tournament, he might not be the only player for the Huskies who can make that claim.
Jackson led the Huskies with 22 points at Charles Koch Arena. Fellow senior and Oral Roberts signee JaMichael Morgan added 10 points, five steals and two assists.
BV Northwest (20-3) will return to Koch Arena Friday for a semifinal matchup at 8:15 p.m.
Blue Valley North 61, Olathe Northwest 37
Blue Valley North isn’t the type of team to rest on its laurels.
When junior Miles Emery emerged from the locker room Wednesday evening at Charles Koch Arena, his first words about BV North beating Olathe Northwest 61-37 in the first round of the Kansas Class 6A quarterfinals weren’t about his team-high 24 points.
They were about how BV North had managed to honor its legacy by guaranteeing two more games in the state playoffs.
“It feels good to get that first win out of the way. All the jitters are gone,” Emery said. “And now I’m building a new legacy off the honor of my brother Jawan playing (on the 2014 runner-up team).”
While Olathe Northwest limited senior Colby Bullock to two points in the first half, Emery was busy netting 16 points to give BV North a 26-16 halftime advantage.
Bullock hit his stride in the second half and sank a pair of three-pointers on his way to an 18-point night.
Olathe Northwest, which had never been to the state tournament in its 14 years of existence, was led in scoring by Luke Waters with 10 points and Matt Vanderslice with 8. Jackson Nicodemus was 6 for 6 from the free-throw line, and Dominic Messina added another six points for Olathe Northwest.
BV North (17-6) will face Lawrence (16-7) in the semifinals on Friday at 4:45 p.m. Coach Ryan Phifer said his team has never played Lawrence in his 11 years at the helm.
“They’ve been in the state tournament the last few years,” Phifer said. “It’s a team that has been around. I know they lost some pieces last year but they’ve got a kid inside that’s solid and some good guards. My focus was Olathe Northwest, and I trusted my coaches with Lawrence.
“The last few times we’ve been here we’ve played with such a quick turnaround. This time we’ll have an extra day to prepare.”
Lawrence 51, Manhattan 44
The score was tied at 39-39. Lawrence had led its Class 6A quarterfinal against Manhattan on Wednesday in Wichita for most of the game but its energy flagged in the second half.
Now only 1.4 seconds remained, and Manhattan’s Cade Roberts was at the free-throw line. If he sank both shots, Lawrence would go home without a chance to even place third in the state tournament, like it did last year.
But Roberts missed both shots. Lawrence, which had slowed Manhattan down by draining the last two minutes on the clock, had another chance.
With senior Jackson Mallory paving the way for Kobe Buffalomeat’s team-high 23 points, Lawrence took a 43-41 lead with 3 minutes left in overtime. Manhattan threatened and hacked Lawrence’s advantage to 47-44 with less than a minute on the clock.
But Lawrence, thanks to a late 4-for-6 performance at the free-throw line from sophomore Clarence King, remained alive in the tournament.
“Whatever we had left, we took it to overtime,” Buffalomeat said. “…They were making shots and we were stale, didn’t score much in the second half. We didn’t have the energy we had in the first half but we took off from there.”
Lawrence Free State 48, Wichita South 42
When Free State finished giving out high fives and greeting the late-night crowd at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, the Lawrence team could breathe a sigh of relief.
The Firebirds slung their arms around each other, lined up in front of the small but loud crowd and sang their alma mater.
Free State had just beaten Wichita South 48-42 Wednesday night in the Class 6A quarterfinals.
Now Free State (17-6) will head to the semifinals on Friday, where Blue Valley Northwest awaits in the prime-time game at 8:15 p.m. The teams last met in the playoffs in 2013, when BV Northwest beat Free State in the first round on its way to a state title.
BV Northwest coach Ed Fritz sat in the stands scoping out his team’s semifinal competition. He watched Free State come out of a one-point deficit at halftime and build a slow 6-2 run to take a 34-28 lead late in the third quarter.
He also saw Free State deftly handle the short leash Wichita South put on the team in the fourth quarter. Wichita South tried to rally, opening on a 4-2 stretch and forcing Free State to commit seven turnovers.
But Free State, in its first state tournament since 2013, kept calm under pressure and reached the semifinals for the second time in school history.
Junior Garrett Luinstra led the team with 16 points and a pair of steals, and seniors Shannon Cordes and Cameron Clark-McGinnis added 12 and 10 points, respectively.