Lions fall just short of state title

Lions claw back to nail-biter ending but lose 64-61

By Gary Schmidt and Meredith Chapple

WICHITA — Senior Jackson Mallory, stood in the right corner, preparing to inbound the ball, in a situation the Lions never thought they would find themselves.

After mounting a 20-point comeback, the Lions were within three points with two seconds left in the season. He threw the ball inbounds to fellow senior Kobe Buffalomeat, but in a bout of confusion, the ball was tossed around, and the Lions could not get a shot off.

The Lions ultimately fell 64-61, to the 6A state champions, Blue Valley Northwest. The loss was painful for the Lions to take, but the heart they showed, and the effort they put to come all the back from down 20, the Lions left knowing they had left their all out on the Charles Koch Arena floor as they tried to win for former coach Kermit Aldridge, who died in 2014.

“It sucks,” Mallory said. “Just getting second twice and third once and just being that close and trying to win it for Coach Aldridge. It just sucks.”

The Lions came out confidently against the run-and-gun Huskies, starting the game strong, leading 8-3.

The Huskies then got back into their game with a quick 7-0 run to take their first lead of the contest. The Lions responded with King, who scored two three-pointers in a span that saw the Huskies and Lions switch back and forth, until the game was tied at 21 with six minutes

The Huskies aided by their industrious star, senior Darien Jackson, who led all scorers with 20 points in the first, getting up and down the floor, showcasing several highlight-reel dunks.

In the early going, the Lions held their own, containing the explosive Huskies for the first 10 minutes of the contest, but once the Huskies were able to get going, the Lions had no answers to stop them.

Following this stretch, the Huskies blew the game open, scoring 18 unanswered points to close out the half. The Lions were still finding open looks but could not get anything to fall. They trailed 43-25 at halftime.

Hannah Gaines
Trey Quartlebaum reaches for the basket during the first half of the state championship game against Blue Valley Northwest as Huskies Samuel Ward and Darien Jackson look on. The Lions lost, finishing second in the state tournament.

Coming out of half, the Lions still struggled to stop BVNW, but this time were able to jump start their own offense. The game was kept within reason, and the Lions again showed they could fly up and down the court with the Huskies.

To the advantage of the Lions, the Huskies committed the two cardinal sins of coughing up a large lead: speeding the game up and giving up easy fouls.

Refusing to slow down their tempo, the Lions held into the fourth quarter ready for one final push, down 52-34.

“Their defense is just scrappy and up tempo, and so I think we just were sloppy with the ball and had bad turnovers,” Mallory said. “Most of them on me and some of the senior guys, so we needed to take that into consideration and so I think we did a good job in the second half.”

Mallory understood the reality of his situation: there was eight minutes left in his career, and a 20-point lead to claw into in front of him.

He took the challenge earnestly, putting on a spectacular performance in the final quarter, scoring points and slowly, but surely getting the Lions back into the contest.

The Lions fed off the energy of Mallory and all contributed to the comeback, playing lights-out defense, finishing putbacks, and most importantly, believing in their leader.

The Lions came all the way back, and capped off their furious run with a Mallory three-pointer to make it a two possession game. With less than two minutes remaining, the Lions were within striking distance.

The Huskies certainly helped, missing the front end of several one-and-ones, and giving the Lions opportunity after opportunity.

Mallory blazed down the floor and tossed up a floater which rimmed out into the hands of sophomore Brett Chapple. Chapple, seeing the clear lane to the basket, rose up, was hit from behind, and finished the layup. After completing the layup, the Lions were within one point.

Hannah Gaines
Midcourt, senior Jackson Mallory moves past the Huskies’ Darien Jackson during the first half of the state championship game. The game took place in Wichita State’s Koch Arena. The Lions lost 61-64.

Fouling before the Huskies could inbound, Jackson went to the free throw line shooting a one and one. Despite his unstoppable night, the Huskies star hit the front iron and gave the Lions a chance to take the lead. Buffalomeat rebounded and kicked out to King who rushed up the left sideline. He got inside and got his right hand towards the basket, but being contacted, his layup fell short. No foul was called, and the Huskies went back to the free throw line to shoot two. This time, they closed the door partially, making both free throws and putting the Lions down by three.

For all their efforts, the Lions failed to get a clean look off in the final 20 seconds, and despite having a couple chances, could not draw up a play good enough to complete their comeback, falling 64-61.

“It’s just been such a wild ride this year, it really has,” said Coach Mike Lewis, who has led his Lions to the state finals for the past three consecutive years. “This journey that we’ve been on, it’s been really good, really bad, in between. It’s just been a really great learning experience and for us to get to this point this late in this championship game and have a chance, we just came up a little bit short for it being really, really sweet.”

The seniors went through the handshake line, and were visibly shook, some teary, but all knowing they had given their all to the game and the school that they love.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Lewis said. “Just the fight, the heart that they had and the determination on the biggest stage. We have a lot to be proud of.”

Hannah Gaines
Under pressure, Austin Miller shoots during the first half of the state championship basketball game. Miller finished the game with three points.