By RON PRESTON
SALINA – There is a very good reason why Topeka-Highland Park was undefeated this season coming into the Class 4A State Tournament and the Abilene Cowboys found out first hand Friday night.
The buzz saw known as the Scots defensively dominated the Cowboys in a 68-32, Highland Park win.
Highland Park allowed the usually offensive minded Cowboys just two points in the first quarter while scoring seemingly at will for a 15-2 lead.
The Cowboys were limited to a pair of free throws from Andy Wilson with nearly three minutes off the clock in the first period.
Offensively it was an off night for the Cowboys along with the stifling defense played by the Scots.
The Cowboys were limited to just an additional six points in the second period as the Scots added to their lead with 14 points for a 29-8 half time lead.
In addition to the inability to score against the Scots, the Cowboys lost the services of one of their key senior leaders in Andy Wilson as he went down with an apparent knee injury at the 6:22 mark in the second quarter.
“Any thought of coming back disappeared real quickly when Andy went down, but even by then the game was well out of hand, and at that point we were basically done,” said Cowboy Coach Terry Taylor following the game.
“We’ve had a couple of games recently where we’ve come back from that kind of deficit early, but we are just not deep enough or strong enough against that quickness,” added coach Taylor.
Highland Park’s defense held the Cowboys to 2 of 15 field goal attempts in the first half for a deflating 13.3 percent, while they connected on 11 of 20 for 55 percent shooting.
The Scots caused the Cowboys to turn the ball over 7 times in the first half and a total of 16 times during the contest.
Senior Trevor Witt came off the bench to lead the Cowboys in scoring with 8 points, all coming in the second half.
“Highland Park played really good tonight early and their defensive pressure, I was really impressed with that,” said coach Taylor
“We didn’t attack them, our kids were intimidated early. That’s the best defensive team we’ve seen all year, by far,” Taylor said.
The Scotts were led in scoring by junior Shaffee Carr with 19 points and seven rebounds. Junior shooting guard Jahmal McMurray scored 13 points and senior Jamon Fulton added 12 points for Highland Park.
“We wanted this, a chance for two undefeated teams to fight for the Championship,” said Highland Park Coach Ken Darting.
“This group of kids in my 35 plus years of coaching, none has played better as a team than this group. We don’t have a guy that will take a game over, a one to one super star, we’re really good as a group,” added coach Darting.
“I can’t remember any 16 minutes of great defense than we played tonight in the first half, and that’s against a very talented team and as well coached of a team as you’re going to find anywhere,” Darting said.
The loss to the Scotts sent the Cowboys (20-5) into the consolation game Saturday afternoon against the Andale Indians (21-3) who lost to unbeaten Ottawa in a game played earlier Friday evening.
Senior Semi Ojeleye of Ottawa set a tournament single game scoring leader with 45 points in the Ottawa 73-49 semi-final game over Andale.
“We’ve got a game left to play and we’re playing for a trophy and third place medals. There are only two teams that will end the tournament with a win and we have a possibility of being one of those two teams,” coach Taylor added.
“Our seniors want to go out with a win, and even without Andy, I believe we have enough character and pride to give Andale a good game,” concluded coach Taylor.
Highland Park 68, Abilene 32
Abilene (20-5) 2 6 11 13 – 32
H. Park (24-0) 15 14 20 19 – 68
Abilene: Wilson 4, Anderson 3, Hoekman 3, Kelly 4, Patrick 4, Gonzales 2, Harms 4, Witt 8.
Highland Park: McMurray 13, Glover 1, Hunt 8, Wheeler 4, K.Clark 6, Kyles 3, Fulton 12, Carr 19, O. Clark 2.