GARDNER — Playing without leading scorer Garrett Luinstra on Tuesday, Free State’s boys basketball team had to look elsewhere for offense.
Whether it was open looks on the perimeter or closer to the paint, Free State’s shots just refused to drop for most of the night. Once shots did fall against Gardner Edgerton, the Firebirds couldn’t make up enough ground in a 55-51 loss at Gardner Edgerton.
The Firebirds missed their first 13 attempts from behind the 3-point arc, which allowed the Trailblazers (4-2, 1-1 in Sunflower League) to pack the paint with various versions of their zone defense.
“We couldn’t buy a basket for a while,” Free State coach Sam Stroh said.
Gardner Edgerton senior forward Luke Soza converted on a layup-and-the-foul basket for a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Free State senior point guard Simon McCaffrey followed with his team’s first 3-pointer to start a stretch of points in six of the next seven possessions.
The second-ranked Firebirds (2-1, 1-1) climbed within two points, but never had an opportunity to tie the game with the ball in their hands. The Trailblazers made seven of their eight free throws in the final minute.
“This is a reality check but we like it we’re at right now,” Stroh said. “We still have a lot of room for improvement.”
Luinstra, who scored 56 points in the Firebirds’ first two games, was out sick. Without him, Free State struggled to find consistency. There was a 3-1/2 minute scoring drought in the first quarter. Another three minutes without a basket in the third quarter.
Junior forward Noah Butler powered the offense in the first half, finishing with 15 points mostly at the rim.
At times, the Firebirds’ best offense was missed shots. Senior Jalan Robinson, a 6-foot-5 center, made the most of second-chance opportunities with several put-backs in the second half. Robinson finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, calling for the ball and scoring seven points in the fourth quarter.
“When we got it inside, (Robinson) was unstoppable,” said McCaffrey, who had nine points. “Maybe we should’ve got it to him earlier in the game. We just have to keep our heads up and we’ll be all right.”
The Firebirds took a two-point lead, which lasted 16 seconds, midway through the third quarter when senior guard Bansi King recovered a long rebound and dished a pass ahead to senior Reece White-Downing for a one-handed slam in transition.
After Free State’s lead, Gardner Edgerton responded with a 9-3 run to close out the third quarter. The Trailblazers only turned the ball over three times throughout the night, attacking the FSHS defense with a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls to set up screeners for layups.
“Couldn’t get anything going until the fourth quarter,” said Stroh, crediting G-E coach Jeff Langrehr. “Good learning experience for us.”
After winter break, the Firebirds will go on the road to play Olathe North on Jan. 5. Senior transfer Zach McDermott, from Bishop Seabury, will then be eligible to play for the first time this season.
Free State (51)
Simon McCaffrey 3-10 1-2 9, Reece White-Downing 2-5 0-0 4, Bansi King 2-9 2-3 6, Noah Butler 7-13 1-3 15, Jalan Robinson 8-12 1-1 17, Turner Corcoran 0-1 0-0 0, Jared Hicks 0-3 0-0 0, Wyatt Durland 0-0 0-0 0, DK Middleton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 5-9 51.
Gardner Edgerton (55)
Tydus Webb 2-4 3-4 7, Tyler Rollwagen 3-11 3-5 9, Brody Marshall 5-8 2-2 12, Luke Jennings 3-7 0-0 6, Luke Soza 3-5 2-3 9, Teven McKelvey 4-7 4-4 12, Cam Trammell 0-0 0-0 0, Reid Frase 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-43 14-18 55.
Free State 7 12 11 21 — 51
Gardner Edgerton 12 9 13 21 — 55
Three-point goals: Free State 2-17 (McCaffrey 2); Gardner Edgerton 1-7 (Soza). Fouled out: McCaffrey. Turnovers: Free State 10, Gardner Edgerton 3.