The defending Class 6A runner-up and current Class 6A No. 3 Blue Valley Northwest Huskies found themselves in unfamiliar territory coming into the final of the Valley Center January Jam on Saturday as underdogs.
Its opponent was No. 2 Olathe Northwest with highly touted Kentucky commit Willie Cauley and Division I prospect Shavon Shields leading the way. However unfamiliar the feeling as an underdog may have been for Blue Valley, it was almost a welcome one.
“I like being in the position of the underdog,” Blue Valley Northwest head coach Ed Fritz said. “Last year we were in a position where everybody thought we were really good. This year they don’t think we are very good because we have four sophomores that play all the time.”
Those four sophomores outperformed Olathe Northwest in every facet as the Huskies knocked off No. 2 61-44. Olathe Northwest never threatened as the Huskies had a 15-8 lead after the first quarter and outscored the Ravens in each frame.
The sophomore quartet of Clay Custer, Kyle Harrison, Ben Richardson and Vince Fritz accounted for 47 of Blue Valley Northwest’s 61 points.
None of those players were more impressive than Custer as he consistently torched the Raven defense on his way to a game-high 30 points. His abilities are a luxury Fritz has had the opportunity to coach since Custer was in the third grade.
“Our point guard Custer is just a great player,” Fritz said. “He was going by two or three guys at a time out there. When you have him on your team it makes it pretty easy for you.”
Custer scored 80 points throughout the tournament to take home the Most Valuable Player award.
“He (Custer) just epitomizes everything you need. He is just tough. He is a great passer and he makes his foul shots,” Fritz said. “He loves the pressure. Having him makes things easy because we know we are going to take care of the ball. We know we are going to get a shot most of the time. In my opinion he is the best player in the state right now as a sophomore.”
The sophomore guard thrived under the pressure on Saturday as he finished the game 16-for-16 from the free throw line.
The defensive effort by the Huskies cannot be understated as the dynamic Shields and Cauley combined for just 20 points on the night. Shields was averaging 24.5 points-per-game in the tournament coming in, but mustered just 11 on Saturday.
“I though Vince Fritz did a really good job on Shavon early. He (Shields) had to fight for a lot of things and got two quick fouls and that helped us. Anytime Shavon got the ball in the post we double teamed,” Fritz said. “Jonny Giess did a good job on Willie most of the night.”
Blue Valley Northwest now has momentum from this big midseason victory, but things do not slow down for the Huskies from here.
“It (the win) gives us some confidence,” Fritz said. “Our problem is that we go back to our league schedule and our league is really, really good. We have a lot of momentum going right now, but you are only as good as your next game and that is what we are going to try and focus on.”
3rd Place: Wichita Southeast 63, KC Turner 61
The Golden Buffaloes held off a late charge by Turner to take home the third place trophy. Southeast got out to a 23-14 lead after the first quarter and held on from there. The Golden Bears either tied or outscored Southeast in each of the final three quarters to make the game interesting.
Davonte Garland dropped 18 points to lead the Golden Buffaloes. Teammates Donshea Henderson and Reggie Smith also did their part with 13 and 12 points respectively.
5th Place: Junction City 65, Topeka Seaman 54
Junction City was never in trouble in the fifth-place game as it jumped out to a 39-25 advantage at the half over the Vikings. Cedric Johnson dropped 18 points to lead Junction City. Seaman’s Adam Heald matched Johnson with 18 points of his own.
7th Place: Garden City 48, Valley Center 41
The host Hornets never led in this one and had no players in double figures in the game. Jake Curran and Braden Taylor led Garden City with 13 points each.