The Eads Boys’ Basketball program has been on the skids for a number of years as they try to gain traction in a very tough conference. Last year, in second-year head coach Marcus Gilmore’s first campaign, the Eagles were less than average with a 6-14 overall record. Admittedly, Gilmore spent most of the season working on foundational skills that just weren’t there for the bulk of the team. But Gilmore is very happy about how his team, still young with almost all freshmen and sophomores, showed up with a solid foundation this year.
On Friday night, in their home and season opener, the Eads Eagles electrified the crowd as they moved the ball in fast-paced fashion up and down the court getting a solid start with a 53-48 win over non-conference Flagler/Hi-Plains Thunder.
“Man, that was a fun way to open the season. To get a tough win at home was a great step for us in the right direction,” stated Gilmore.
The Eagles used a fast-break offense that was entertaining. However, their youth and inexperience showed as they committed 32 turnovers on the night. Coach Gilmore mentioned those turnovers saying, “We made plenty of mistakes. Turnovers killed us. We had 32. We won’t win many more ball games like that, so it’s definitely an area we have got to work on. Our youth showed, but it also shined at times.”
Eads got out of the gates on their opponent quickly in the first period with a 15-1 run before the Thunder could get anything going. Sophomore Damian Barnes led the way with four jumpers, mostly off of offensive boards, and contributed a couple of fast break assists. Senior Blake Stoker hit a late 3 in the period. Thunder sophomore Nathan Saffer helped out his team a bit with a last minute bucket leaving the first quarter in Eads’ favor, 15-5.
The Thunder switched up their defensive scheme coming out in the second quarter. Their 1-3-1 zone caused the impatience of Eads to bubble to the surface as they forced too many passes and wasn’t disciplined enough to move the ball around until they got a good shot. Gilmore observed, “We had trouble scoring which led to us trying to force everything to work on fast break buckets. A tough lesson learned.”
“We let them right back into the game on turnovers,” said Gilmore. The Thunder hit for 14 points, many coming off Eagle turnovers, while Eads could only muster 8 counters including a couple of buckets from Barnes. By halftime, the Thunder had moved within striking range trailing, 23-19.
Both teams played even in the third period with each scoring 14 leaving the four-point Thunder deficit. In that quarter a couple of Eagles found some range as they started moving the ball better against the Thunder’s zone defense. Juniors Alex Schmidt and Dillon Hernandez both knocked down a three ball.
The fourth quarter was close the entire time as Barnes was in a little foul trouble and spent some time on the bench. Last year, Eads did not have the luxury of using a deep bench, but this year Gilmore can go as deep as 9 in any given situation. The bench for Eads held it together and kept the lead. Stoker started the fourth with a bucket and Eads was off to the races early as Barnes ran several exceptional fast breaks to his teammates for early buckets.
Midway through the fourth they began to struggle as Barnes, again, took a seat with 4 fouls. For a stretch of a minute and a half the Eagles got outrebounded and suffered some turnovers. When Barnes returned, however, the defense picked up and Eads made some key plays late in the game.
With 1:20 left in the game Nick Schroeder, who had a 15-point performance for the Thunder, caught Eads sleeping and came into the lane with the charm and the harm getting the Thunder within 3 points.
Eads then turned the ball over and the Thunder scored again to make the score, 47-46, with Eads holding onto the slim margin. The Thunder then slapped a full court press on with less than a minute remaining.
However, the young Eagles just kept pushing the ball, sometimes resulting in a turnover and sometimes resulting in some points. With 29 seconds remaining, Barnes caught the ball against the Thunder, and was fouled for two bonus free throws. The sophomore canned them both putting the score at 51-46.
Schroeder came back and scored with 16 seconds left making the score 51-48. Eads then inbounded against the Thunder pressure and turned the ball over with 11 seconds remaining. The Thunder missed a layup and Eads got the ball back. Finally, the Thunder was forced to foul Barnes. Again, the sophomore hit both of the freebies with just seconds to go. In fact, Barnes went 5-for-5 down the stretch to secure the win. Gilmore was happy saying, “The fourth quarter was close the whole time, but we made some big shots and enough free throws down the stretch to seal it up.”
Barnes led the Eagles right out of the gates in his first preps varsity game with a double-double on the night including 21 points and 12 rebounds. The sophomore also ran the floor well contributing 4 assists to his teammates. He had 2 steals.
Stoker added 9 counters, and Schmidt contributed 7 points and 6 boards.
In JV action, Eads lost to the Thunder, 41-30. Brandon Lening had 9 points, while Hatch Nelson canned 7, and both Donte Sierra and Cade McDowell pitched in 5 apiece.
Next up for Eads is the Border Wars, a tournament that is brand new for the Eagles. It’s where teams on the Colorado-Kansas border square up early in the season for a tournament. The Eads boys will play Elkhart on Tuesday, December 4th at 6:30 pm. Then on Friday and Saturday they take on Stanton County (3:00 pm) and Syracuse at 7:00 pm. All games this year are in Syracuse.
“It’s always good to start the season off with a win. That’s a good confidence booster for us to take into the Border Wars this coming week. That will be a tough three game stretch against some good Kansas schools. We are the newcomers to the tournament, so we want to go down there and represent ourselves.”
“This win will definitely help us do that.”
Photo Credit Wilson Photography