It was an impressive showing for the Wichita East Blue Aces, as they cruised through to the Tournament of Champions finals with a 64-38 victory over the Hutchinson Salt Hawks.
The two teams were not only under the bright lights of the new arena, they were being broadcast on live television in front of a growing crowd that had the United Wireless at near capacity.
The first semifinal of the night matched up the Blue Aces and the Salt Hawks, two teams with differing styles of play, as Hutchinson like to work the ball around the perimeter, while East would much rather transition their defense into a quick break offense.
“It was good to see us get off to a good start, we’ve been doing that in the third and fourth quarter mostly, but to come out the way we did reflects that they were focused and they knew what was at stake,” said Wichita East head coach Ron Allen. “They came out and played hard and set the tone early on.”
For the first quarter of Friday night’s contest, the Aces ran their plan to perfection, racing in front of the Hawks by double digits thanks to the hot hand of Denver University signee Jalen Love, who knocked down three triples in the first period alone.
The Aces had a noticeable size advantage over the Hawks, as their interior defense had a field day against the smaller Hutchinson perimeter players, including 5-foot-7 Tanner Higgins.
With the help of Love, Wichita East finished the first quarter on a 20-6 run, leaving Hutchinson head coach Nathan Henry to wonder why his players couldn’t close out.
Page 2 of 3 - Despite the first quarter deficit, the Hawks found some life at the beginning of the second, finding some space inside as they used their ball movement to disperse the Ace’s zone defense.
After Lucas Munds put together some nice shots for the Salt Hawks, they would find themselves back in the ball game, even if that meant being 10 or so points behind.
But the Aces thrive on teams being in a hole, as they use their opponent’s aggressiveness to their favor, grabbing loose balls and breaking off in transition, out running and out gunning them on the other end of the floor.
Even though they were outscored 13-12 in the second, East held a 32-19 lead going into the break thanks to 15 points from Love and six points from their big man, Larry Dennis, inside.
The third quarter would feature more of the same for the Aces, who continued to work the interior as Tyas Martin began to make an impace off the bench.
The Aces withstood any type of Salt Hawk comeback, holding Munds and Ronald Royd to a minimum, stretching their lead to over 20 by early in the fourth quarter.
With the score 53-33 with four minutes remaining, East was still running their transition offense as Hutchinson was forced to attempt more threes than usual. as the Aces cruised to a finals matchup with the winner of the Wichita Heights and Dodge City contest.
East was led by Love with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, while the team as a unit shot 50 percent from the floor. Not only did they do it on the offensive end, they were solid on defense, blocking 14 Hutchinson shots with nine coming from Dennis and DaAnte Brandon.
Page 3 of 3 - “The defense, those guys played hungry, they made it personal, they didn’t want anybody scoring on them,” Allen said. “They had that attitude and when they play like that, we’re going to be a lot better defensively.”
Munds for Hutchinson led them in scoring with 17 points as they will play the loser of the Dodge City-Heights game at 4 p.m.