RILEY — A productive first half proved to be the difference for the Riley County boys’ basketball team in a tight sub-state matchup Tuesday night.
The No. 4-seeded Falcons were able to edge the No. 5-seeded McLouth Bulldogs 66-62.
Riley County senior Cameron Uphoff led the Falcons with 22 points, while senior Joel Garver added 16 points. Senior Collin Wood had 14 points.
The tough inside play by 6-foot-4 senior Gavin Swearngin led McLouth with a game-high 23 points, while junior Marc Walbridge added 12.
“We were lucky to hang on,” Falcons head coach Kelly Hammel said. “We’re just glad we made a couple plays down at the end, but we didn’t play real smart there in the last couple minutes.
“It’s what you expect in a number four versus number five game. Most of those are usually tight — this was a tight one and we were able to survive and move on.”
A 20-point second quarter for Riley County put the team ahead of the Bulldogs 39-31 at halftime.
It was a five-point game going into the final period with Falcons ahead 49-44.
It looked as if Riley County was well in control of the contest with less than 5 minutes to play when Uphoff, who had been patient with the ball at the top of the key, drove inside the paint and scored the bucket and got the foul call. He made the extra point and the Falcons led McLouth by 10 points with 4:23 left in the game.
But the Bulldogs chipped away at the lead.
A layup by Swearngin cut the Riley County lead to six points with 3:23 on the clock. And though the Falcons drew a foul on the other end, Riley County couldn’t convert on the front end of a one-and-one.
But, McLouth answered the missed opportunity with a turnover, and even after the Falcons missed a shot on offense, a Bulldog travel call gave the ball right back to Riley County.
The Falcons quickly broke the full-court press and found an open Uphoff under the basket to put some distance on McLouth at 64-56 with 1:51 to play.
The Bulldogs got right back in it, though.
Walbridge drove inside with a make and got fouled. He missed the free throw, but Swearngin quickly grabbed the miss and stuck it back in for what turned out to be a four-point possession for McLouth.
Down by four points with 1:41 to go, Bulldog sophomore Nick McAferty stole the ball mid-court from Riley County. And though he missed the one-on-one layup, teammate Drew Cerny was there to pull down the miss and put it back up. Cerny drew the foul and made both shots to make it 64-62 with a little more than a minute left.
The Falcons were fouled on the other end, but again missed the front end of the one-and-one and the Bulldogs called a timeout with 25.9 seconds remaining.
Following the pause, McLouth got back in action and looked to pass the ball back from the inside to the outside, but Riley County swamped the ball handler and the Bulldogs were called for traveling.
Garver was quickly fouled by McLouth after the change-of-possession and he made both his free throws to seal the game with 9 seconds left.
The Falcons were 6-of-13 at the free throw line, while the Bulldogs were 8-of-16 at the stripe for the game.
“We had a little mental lapse there (in the final 2 minutes),” Hammel said. “But our guys refocused and hunkered down, made our shots and made some good passes at the end.
“But you have to compete for 32 minutes, especially now. Everyone is fighting for their lives out there. You are one-and-done, so give McLouth credit. They really scratched to the end and played hard. They gave us a really good battle tonight.”
Riley County will play No. 1-seed Osage City on Thursday night. Osage City (19-2) defeated St. Marys 66-46 on Tuesday .
RILEY CO. 66, McLOUTH 62
McLouth 16 15 13 18 — 62
Riley County 19 20 10 17 — 66
McLOUTH (62) — Swearngin 23, Walbridge 12, Gish 9, Cop 6, Courtney 4, Dailey 4, Cerny 2, McAferty 2.
RILEY COUNTY (66) — Uphoff 22, Garver 16, Wood 14, Shoemaker 9, Vargo 5.
3-pointers — McLouth 4 (Walbridge 2, Cop, Courtney). Riley County 6 (Garver 3, Wood 2, Vargo).