WAMEGO — Jay-Z’s song “On to the Next One” blared from the Wamego locker room after the Red Raiders’ 69-61 home victory over Concordia on Friday night.
It was a fitting anthem for Wamego, which bounced back from a nonconference loss to Rock Creek a week ago to improve to 3-0 in the NCKL.
Wamego jumped out to a 43-25 lead early in the third quarter by way of an 18-2 run that was sparked by a 9-0 spurt to end the second quarter.
It looked like the Red Raiders were going to pull away with an easy victory over the Concordia Panthers, but Wamego head coach Troy Hemphill said he never felt comfortable with the big lead.
“We knew we weren’t just going to run away and hide from that team,” Hemphill said. “They’re too good. We knew they would make a run at us.”
Led by brothers Cooper and Grant Holmes, Concordia relentlessly attacked the basket and chipped away at the once 18-point lead in the second half. Sophomore Cooper Holmes scored 18 of his 26 points in the third and fourth quarters. Grant finished with 12 points.
Defensively, Hemphill tried to throw a variety of looks at Cooper Holmes. He even thought of using some football tactics to defend the 6-foot-4 forward.
“He’s kind of hard to guard without tackling him,” Hemphill said. “We thought about it.”
The Holmes’ offensive performances were aided by the defensive play of Kaleb Pounds.
Hounded by Pounds, Wamego guard Trenton York had trouble breaking the one-man press.
“He’s a good athlete,” Hemphill said of Concordia’s senior guard. “He’s got quick hands and he presents a problem out there on the perimeter.”
Pounds was able to knock the ball away from York twice in the final few minutes. One of those steals led to a basket by Jace Coppoc, who earlier broke the 18-2 run by Wamego with a 3-pointer in the third quarter.
Hemphill acknowledged that he put York in a compromising position after the game.
“I probably left Trenton out there a little too long,” Hemphill said. “He got tired and Pounds was able to turn him over some.”
Wamego was able to maintain its lead through the punishing play of its own post player, Eli Miller, who scored 24 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.
Hemphill said they worked a lot this past week on trying to get Miller better open looks at the basket.
“We’ve been running a lot more things to get the ball to the open block,” Hemphill said. ” I thought we executed that pretty well. We looked for Eli. He needs to touch the ball.”
Miller almost had the blunder of the game, though. He broke away from the Concordia defense and missed a wide-open layup. But Miller was able to gain the rebound and hit both free throws after a foul to put Wamego back up by six.
Hemphill said he was pleased with his team’s effort down the stretch.
“We made enough plays to win the game,” he said.
Jared Ayres added 16 points for Wamego, including four baskets from behind the arc.