By RON PRESTON
The McPherson Bullpups came out of the gate like a pack of pit bulls instead of pups as they tore into the Abilene Cowboys for 12 unanswered points to take a 15-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But like the sign said hanging behind the Cowboy student cheering section, “This Ain’t Our First Rodeo,” the Cowboys fought back and came away with a 59-55 victory over the seconded seed Bullpups.
There was hardly anything that went right for the Cowboys in the first period while McPherson was getting fast break layups and put-back buckets off offensive rebounds to take advantage of that big lead.
“After a miserable first quarter and being down 17-3 in the second, we played pretty well the rest of the night,” said a happy Cowboy Coach Terry Taylor following the ballgame. “We finally got over the butterflies, trying to go too fast, couldn’t make shots, didn’t run the offense that was set; so all the things we didn’t want to do, we did at the beginning. We weathered the storm. McPherson had the big lead; they probably relaxed a little bit.
“We had a great second quarter and particularly the last four or five minutes and came back to within 1 at halftime. That was the key to the game,” he added.
The second quarter began with a McPherson layup by Keaton Sorenson for McPherson to make the lead 17-3. This happened with barely a minute off the game clock but the Bullpups did not score again until there was less than 3 minutes to play in the first half.
In the meantime, the Cowboys got two treys and a traditional three-point play from senior captain Andy Wilson and jumpers from Keil Kelly and Jesse Patrick to cut the deficit to three points 19-16 with 2:45 left in the first half.
Jacob Harms came open under the basket with two buckets, one with a great assist from Matthew Barlow and the second shot Harms went strong to the glass to tie the game at 21-21.
Ryan Horton hit one of two free throws as time ran out in the half for a 22-21, McPherson lead.
“We came into the locker room and the kids had a lot of confidence that we could play with them,” said coach Taylor.
The two teams played pretty even during the third quarter with Wilson scoring 12 of his game high 29 points. He had three field goals and was perfect 5-5 from the charity stripe.
Harms was the only other Cowboy scorer in the third as he added another inside bank shot and two free throws.
The Bullpups had a five point advantage at one point in the period but the Cowboys kept fighting back and McPherson was soon in foul trouble as well as tied at the end of three 36-36.
“We got them into foul trouble. Start of the fourth quarter, I believe they had 4 starters with 4 fouls. That hindered their defensive intensity and we continued to attack the rim pretty well for the most part,” coach Taylor said.
The Cowboys got their first lead in the game with under a minute off the game clock to start the final quarter when Harms was fouled and connected on two free throws for a 38-36, Cowboy lead.
This would soon be followed by a Tanner Hoekman steal and driving layup for a 40-36 lead.
The Bullpups came back to tie the game at 41 following a Horton three-point shot at the 5:35 mark.
McPherson called an immediate time out and following the time out the Cowboys got the ball inside to Harms for an inside shot to retake the lead for good 43-41 with just over three minutes to play.
Wilson shot an NBA trey from the top of the arc followed by two baskets from Patrick to stretch the Cowboy lead to 50-44.
The Bullpups applied a full court defensive attack against the Cowboys following their second time out of the quarter with 1:44 remaining in the game and the Cowboys leading 52-47.
With the pressure defense also came more fouls by the Bullpups, some intentional, to stop the clock.
The Cowboys answered by hitting 12 of 16 free throws in the waning minutes of the game.
“We had some doubts early, we panicked, things didn’t go as well, but we fought off them at the end with pretty good management of the clock in the fourth quarter and some free throws. We made some big free throws tonight,” Taylor added.
The last minute and a half of the game had the crowd on their feet or the edge of their seat as the Cowboys and Bullpups traded baskets or free throws as the clock ran out with a Cowboy win 59 -55 following a buzzer beater trey from Dylan Stos of McPherson.
“We came out tonight like it was the sub-state championship game and I think McPherson did the same thing,” Taylor added.
“Now we have to forget it tomorrow and get ready to play again, but certainly tonight we are going to enjoy it. The kids are smiling and yelling a lot. They are as happy tonight in that locker room as I’ve seen them all year,” he added.
“This meant a lot to them to beat McPherson, because McPherson dominated 5A for all those years and now they came down to 4A and last year they went to state and got beat in the first round. Today, obviously they didn’t get a chance to return to the state tournament.”
“This is a big win for our kids, our program and I am really proud of them,” Taylor said. “This was our best win for me as a coach, to beat McPherson on your home floor in front of a nice crowd. Nothing like winning the sub-state on your home court and we are going to try and do that on Saturday.”
Saturday night, the Cowboys host the Hesston Swathers for the 4A sub-state tournament championship at 7:30 pm.
Abilene 59, McPherson 55
McPherson (18-3) 15 7 14 19-55
Abilene (18-4) 3 18 15 23-59
McPherson: Houghten 6, Stos 9, Sorenson 13, Kinnamon 14, R. Horton 4, P. Horton 9.
Abilene: Barlow 4, Wilson 29, Hoekman 2, Kelly 2, Patrick 6, Harms 16.