SMNW falls short in bounce-back effort
Any doubt about the fight left in the Shawnee Mission Northwest boys basketball team after a disheartening loss to Shawnee Mission West last Tuesday was erased Friday night as the Cougars put together a furious rally in the final minute of their game against Lawrence High.
Though the Cougars fell to the Lions, 65-62, they came back from eight points down with less than a minute to play and had a chance to win the game in the contest's final seconds.
"I'm so proud of our kids," Northwest coach Ben Meseke said. "The way they came back after Tuesday night -- they really got back up off the canvas. Our kids had the courage to come back."
On Tuesday, Northwest had faced a demoralizing 61-36 loss to West in which the Vikings shot 70 percent from the field in the second half. Only a sterling effort would allow them to compete with a Lawrence team that had a trio of outstanding senior shooters in Chance Riley, Nathan Padia and Nick Wagner.
The Cougars showed from the get-go that they were not intimidated, getting off to a 4-0 lead off a pair of stickback buckets by Adam Marello and Jonas Varnum. However, Wagner and Padia quickly found their range for the Lions and Northwest was down 6-4. Marello came back with two more baskets to put the Cougars back up, but a Riley three at the first quarter buzzer left the Lions with a 15-11 lead.
Another Riley three-pointer put Lawrence up by five, 18-13, early in the second quarter. However, the Cougars answered with a 10-3 run that culminated in a Ryan Arel three-pointer from the left side. That bucket put Northwest up 23-21 halfway through the second frame. The Cougars and Lions traded points the rest of the quarter before Lawrence edged its way to a 33-28 halftime lead.
The Cougars pulled to within one, 33-32, in the opening minute of the second half off a pair of baskets from senior Matt Page and Chase Mejia. Then, near the four minute mark, two Varnum free throws made the score 38-37. Lawrence and Northwest traded buckets for the rest of the third quarter and the Lions emerged from the period with a 45-42 lead.
The beginning of the fourth quarter boded well for the Cougars as baskets by Varnum and then by junior Scott Fruehling gave the Cougars the lead for the first time since the second quarter, 46-45. However, the Cougars were outscored 16-7 during the next four minutes and found themselves staring at a 61-53 deficit with less than a minute remaining. With just more than 40 seconds remaining, Mejia drilled a top-of-the-key three-pointer to make it 61-56. After the Lions sank two free throws on the other end, Mejia repeated his feat from the top of the key and the Cougars were within four, 63-59, with 27 seconds left. The Lions then turned the ball over and the Cougars found Arel in the right corner. Arel's three rolled completely around the rim three times before falling and the Cougars were down by just one, 63-62, with 13 seconds left. The Lions then booted the ball out of bounds underneath the basket and the Cougars had a chance to go ahead with just seven seconds remaining. However, after being given a golden opportunity to steal a road win, Northwest could not get the ball inbounds and turned it over on the baseline with five seconds left. Northwest then fouled Padia who sank two free throws to put Lawrence up by three. The Cougars had one last shot and found junior guard Cooper Mach open from the right side, but his three-point attempted bounced twice off the rim before falling to the floor.
After the game, Meseke said his team gained valuable experience form a tight game.
"Every time these two teams get together it's going to be like that," Meseke said. "We learned more in this game than we have in all the other games. We learned how to foul properly, how to pass under pressure, how to take the ball to the hole. They had to have that kind of effort."
Marello led the Cougars, recording a double-double with 16 points and 12 boards. Varnum added 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists, while Fruehling also had 10 points. Arel contributed 9 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists, and Mejia racked up 9 points and 4 assists. The two losses on the week dropped the Cougars to 3-2 on the year.
The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Cougars, as they host Shawnee Mission East at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 21. East is coming off a 41-29 win against Shawnee Mission West earlier in the season.