ELLIS, Kan. - With 5.9 seconds left, Thomas More Prep-Marian senior guard Ryan Karlin missed his second straight free throw. Ellis quickly gathered the rebound and advanced the ball up the floor. Sophomore Brady Frickey, who sunk three treys and delivered a contest-high 19 points, attempted a game-winning buzzer-beater trey from the top left side of the arc.
When Frickey released the ball, TMP coach Bill Meagher believed the shot was going in. Instead, it bounced off the back rim and narrowly missed. The Monarchs held on for a 54-53 road win Monday night at Ellis High School in a Mid-Continent League tournament quarterfinals contest.
“My heart was on the floor, because I would have swore it was going in,” Meagher said. “And he got a great look. He is so fast, and it’s unbelievable how far up the floor he got, and just a tremendous athlete and a great kid. I thought for sure it was going in.”
Ellis, who had beaten the Monarchs, 53-49, at home on Jan. 4, is the tournament’s No. 2 seed and dropped into the backside of the bracket with a 5-3 record.
TMP, the No. 7 seed, had defeated Smith Center, 65-59, in a tournament play-in game Saturday at Stockton. The 7-4 Monarchs are into Friday’s semifinals at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School against No. 6 Hill City. The Ringnecks defeated No. 3 seed Oakley, 48-33.
“I felt like we got a good look,” Ellis coach Mark Eck said. “With 5.9 seconds to go with no timeouts left, I don’t know that you could probably ask for a better look, and we would put the ball in that situation in Brady’s hands time and time again.
“He’s a kid that’s worked extremely hard in the offseason,” Eck added. “For the most part, he has kind of earned that right to take those shots. It’s one of those things, I told them, ‘I will take that shot anytime in a situation like that,’ and it just didn’t fall unfortunately.”
TMP has had five games since the holiday break. Ellis has played just twice, both against the Monarchs. Last Friday’s contest was postponed because of the weather. Monday marked the Railers’ second game in 30 days. Eck watched the SC/TMP contest.
“It was a different team,” Eck said. “You can definitely tell they got better last week, and we are kind of tired of practicing against each other.”
Ellis held a brief 2-0 lead before TMP scored the next seven points and led the majority of the game. The Monarchs held a 13-9 advantage after the first quarter and 28-23 at halftime. The Monarchs led 34-29 with 3 minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter when 6-foot-7 senior forward Jared Mayers went out with his third foul.
Mayers collected 20 points and 12 rebounds versus the Redmen and finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Ellis ended the quarter on a 10-4 run before the Monarchs again took the lead in the fourth quarter.
“I said, ‘All season long, when this happens, we fold and we can’t come back,’” Meagher said. ‘What are we going to do? Can we be resolved to come back and get this going in the right direction?’ And I was really proud. This is a big step for us as a team.”
The Monarchs, like against most of their opponents, had a sizable advantage inside with Mayers, 6-5 junior Carson Jacobs and 6-1 senior Jack Johnson.
TMP finished with a plus-17 rebounding margin. Jacobs had five points and 10 rebounds, and Johnson collected six points and nine rebounds.
“We are working really, really hard on it,” Meagher said of rebounding. “We felt like the (first) Ellis game we struggled with that.”
The trio each finished with at least four fouls, and Jacobs fouled out late. However, Ellis’ 6-5 junior post Carter Bollig, the Railroaders’ biggest player, also had foul problems and fouled out late, too.
“One of the things is when they are tired, we have got to get them out, because they tend to pick up fouls in multiples, and so we try and keep them rested,” Meagher said. “But at the end of the day, we told them, ‘We have got to have you in there, and you can’t foul,’ and you have got to make a decision to stay in this game.”
Eck, in his first year as head coach, has been around basketball for decades. He and his brother Geoff were players on the Fort Hays State University men’s basketball national championship team that finished undefeated in 1996.
In high school, Eck played under legendary coach Steve Eck – now the longtime successful Hutchinson Community College men’s coach – at Wichita South and has incorporated many of his offensive sets and focus on fundamentals.
“To be completely honest with you, it seemed like that first half our set plays were the only thing that really kept us in it,” Eck said. “Because that’s what we scored out of.”
Ellis recorded just 10 turnovers, five in the last three quarters, while TMP had 17 in the game. The Railers received 12 points from senior Cade Lewis and 11 from junior Zachary Eck, who had 26 in the first game. Senior Logan Shaw ran the offense effectively. Meagher used different players on Eck and told his team to “stay with him wherever he goes.”
“Credit to TMP’s coaching staff, they pretty much called out every set we had,” Eck said. “And they really, really did a good job at cutting some of the things away that worked last week.”
The Railers, who shot 47 percent overall, made their final five shots of the third quarter and often used crisp back cuts and strong interior passing for layups. Ellis led TMP, 39-38, after the third.
In the fourth quarter, TMP trailed 44-41 before sophomore Jackson Schulte sunk two 3s within 30 seconds at the same spot, just to the right of the top of the key. The second one gave the Monarchs a 47-46 lead. Schulte paced TMP with 16 points.
“A lot of kids maybe as a sophomore wouldn’t pull those, and he knew it was the right shot at the right spot, and he put it up,” Meagher said. “And that really lifted us big time out of a little bit of a hole.”
TMP led 54-50 when Frickey, sunk a trey to cut the deficit to one. Frickey was hit by a ball in the nose in pregame and played with his nose plugged throughout the contest.
After Karlin missed two free throws, Frickey’s next shot narrowly allowed TMP to hold on.
“We talk about Brady not making that shot, and it’s like I told the kids, ‘We probably gave up 10 points because of defensive breakdowns, not knowing who was guarding who, and at the end of the day, that’s what hurt us the most,’” Eck said.