McPherson High basketball coach Kurt Kinnamon believes in his Bullpups.
Kinnamon thinks when his team starts believing in themselves, they will perform at a higher level than Tuesday’s 62-31 Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League victory over the Buhler Crusaders. That’s scary to think about for future Bullpup opponents.
McPherson (4-1, 2-0 AVCTL) is the perennial Division II champion and Buhler (1-4, 0-3) had captured the past AVCTL Division III championships.
Point guard Kyler Kinnamon led the McPherson’s performance with a 22-point game and a solid floor game with several assists. Kinnamon scored the final 10 points of the first half, including a 3-pointer, to keep the Bullpups ahead 28-20.
The first half left coach Kinnamon fired up in the Bullpups’ huddle when his players seemed to lack an offensive spark. Several times, they passed up shots or tossed up ill-advised jumpers rather than work the ball inside.
“We have one guy (Kyler) who thinks they’re a good player and they’ve all got to believe they are good players,” said Kinnamon, who has led McPherson to four state championships. “They sometimes play with so little confidence. But I’m going to keep telling them they are good players until they start playing with confidence and believe in themselves. I have a lot of confidence in them when I see them playing great defense or making the right pass.”
Sam Maldonado kept Buhler within striking distance with a pair of 3-point goals. Somehow, Buhler shook off 19 first-half turnovers to stay within 28-20. The Crusaders led 16-15 on Bransyn Felty’s driving shot. But the Crusaders committed six consecutive turnovers against the Bullpups fullcourt pressure defense.
“Our defense was good all night long, but we had a hard time finishing plays that first half,” Kinnamon said.
That trend vanished as quickly as you can say “Keaton Sorenson.” Sorenson scored on back-to-back plays and Kyler Kinnamon passed to Peter Horton for a 34-20 lead. McPherson never lost the second-half momentum.
“We did a pretty good job hanging in there with 19 turnovers,” said Buhler coach Dennis Wahlgren. “We had some good moments that first half. But we started off the second half poorly and dug ourselves a big hole. We would’ve liked to have come out better than that.”
McPherson found several other offensive options while outscoring Buhler 34-11 after halftime.
Sorenson finished with 11 points and Peter Horton added 10 points. The Bullpups made 23 of 53 field goals, scoring several times off transition baskets.
“Once you start making a shot or two, it gets a little easier,” said Kinnamon. “We got the ball inside to Keaton Sorenson. We made a few plays and that seemed to get everyone going.”
The Bullups’ defense was relentless. The Crusaders’ 34 turnovers were three more than their final point total. The Crusaders finished with 12 of 36 shooting from the field.
Maldonado led Buhler with nine points. Freshman Jace Williams gave Buhler a lift with seven points and aggressive rebounding. Luke Berblinger scored five points off the bench.
“We’ve got to play better, but most of what we did is correctible,” Wahlgren said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors, but most of them are newcomers to varsity basketball, which is night and day from junior varsity. We’re still finding our way as a team, both offensively and defensively.”
McPherson plays at AVCTL rival Hutchinson High (2-3) Thursday and Buhler travels to Abilene (4-1) Friday night.