Eagles turn back Falcons’ comeback

By Nicolas Wahl

SILVER LAKE — Turnover problems and a swarming Silver Lake defense prevented a gritty third-quarter comeback from earning the Riley County boys’ basketball team an upset win in Thursday’s Class 3A sub-state semifinals, as the Eagles escaped with a 46-40 win.

With Riley County trailing 27-19 at halftime, the Falcons (5-16) got a boost from senior guard Landin Griffith, who opened the second half scoring on a tough driving layup in traffic to pull within eight at the 6:26 mark of the third quarter. 

“I’m proud of the kids,” Riley County head coach Steve Fritz said. “They fought really hard. You know, when things weren’t really going our way they kept fighting and scratching, trying to find a way to get in there.”

Forty seconds later, junior forward Brice Brummett — who was saddled on the bench with two fouls for much of the first half — made a nifty up-and-under basket. Griffith got a steal on the ensuing Silver Lake possession and took it in for a layup to cut it to 28-25 with five minutes remaining in the third.

“Landin is very athletic, very explosive,” Fritz said. “When he’s in there and he’s being aggressive, he’s hard to stop. There are certain things he does very well, and when he sticks to those he’s very valuable to us.”

Silver Lake (14-7) went back to its press, causing a turnover after Griffith gave the Falcons a chance to tie with an offensive rebound, but Riley County got a stop on the other end and Brummett struck again.

He took a tight feed from sophomore guard Alex Sager and finished through contact for the old-fashioned three-point play. The free throw was good, topping off a 9-1 run that tied the game at 38-38 with 3:50 in the third, prompting a timeout by Silver Lake head coach Linndy Frieden.

The Eagles came back with the full-court press and a half-court trap that caused the Falcons turnover problems in the first half. Brummett picked up his third foul on the next possession, and Griffith got his fourth 35 seconds later.

In their absence, the Eagles responded with two free throws from junior Ryan Matzke and another from senior Trenton Smith — who had a game-high 21 points — to lead 41-38 with 2:09 left in the quarter.

Sophomore Dalton Huey replaced Brummett and scored two inside. Then junior Trace Nelson -who’d been hounded by Zach Boyd in a box-and-one defense all evening — banked in a long two before he chased down a rebound and took it back for the layup. Both of those scores came in the final 36 seconds and Riley County took a 34-31 lead into the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile the Falcons’ 2-3 zone held Eagle forward Brennan Damman — who scored 10 first-half points — scoreless in the second half.

Huey answered a Brendan Vega score to open the fourth and it was 36-33 Falcons just 30 seconds in, but Smith tied up the game with a long 3-pointer on the next possession. Then Silver Lake caused back-to-back turnovers, both ending in Eagles’ scores giving them a 40-37 with 5:15 to play.

“We made that run in the second half, got the lead going into the fourth quarter, but it just came down to too many turnovers,” Fritz said, “We weren’t as strong with the ball as we have been all year, which is uncharacteristic for us. Unfortunately that ends up being the deciding thing.”

Silver Lake went into a stall and Nelson drew a charge, but another Falcon turnover let Smith hit a layup, get the foul, and hit the free throw and the Eagles led 43-37 with 1:23 left.

Nelson hit a 3-pointer with 45 seconds to play, but Riley County would get no closer as the Eagles iced the game from the free-throw line.

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