If the coaches and fans were worried about the Wichita Wizards suffering from tired legs and exhaustion after their doubleheader against Program Select in Springfield, Mo., which had the team back in Wichita less than 12 hours before the Father's Day/Fan Appreciation Day tip Sunday - well, there was zero reason to worry.
Within seconds of tip-off, Wichita Wizard Parker Austin started the game with what is becoming his trademark swat - denying the Tri-State 66ers a quick bucket. The two teams played evenly at first, with Jalen McClish opening up his player-of-the-game worthy day grabbing an offensive rebound for two then adding a three-point shot to help his team take the lead after the first quarter time out.
The two teams battled - 66ers with key steals but also with deadly turnovers. Wizards swarming under the net for both offensive and defensive rebounds. The game wound up all tied up at 32 with about half of the the second quarter left.
Austin pulled down another defensive rebound near halftime but Wizards couldn't convert, the 66ers on a run so Austin stole the ball and ran for a basket - he was fouled under the basket and went to the charity stripe missing both - Jvonn made up for it by getting the rebound and banging home three points for the team.
As halftime and performances from the Lady Wizards approached, scoring slowed down a bit - punctuated with fouls and trips to the free throw line. Then the Wizards kicked into high gear with 11 unanswered points.
Jeremiah May, who had a record day, rolled on in the bucket with under a minute left after being allowed to casually stroll to the arc by the 66ers. May scored 16 points in the first half and finished the day with 25 and snagged seven rebounds. The Wizards almost immidiately regained possession with Jalen McClish hitting a shot-clock buzzer beater. The teams got a bit of rest while the Lady Wizards took to the court like it was a dancefloor and held contests for the restaurant sponsor of the game, Dairy Queen via Tradebank. Featured sponsor, Strickland, got a round of applause from fans.
Jalen McClish started for Kaelon Gary and scored 14, including a pair of three-pointers. Austin (23.3 ppg) and Kaelon Gary (21.6 ppg), Wichita's No. 1 and No. 2 leading scorers, respectively, saw limited playing time as the Wizards captured a 60-37 halftime lead.
Despite the strong lead, Coach Terry Stucky said he told the team to continue to play tough.
"I told them they have to finish this game strong, to treat it like the game is tied going into the second half," said Stucky.
The Wizards definitely took his advice.
Not taking it lying down as they returned to the hardwood, the 66ers continued to fight back and a quick steal converted to a bucket. Roc Lee dropped 13 points in the first half, but was held to four in the second half for the 66ers. Both teams played as if the score had a difference of only one or two possessions instead of many. As the third wound down, Roc Le again kept the 66ers emotionally in the game to make it 87-57.
The last seconds of the third saw the Wizards valiantly trying to end the quarter with an exclamation point through several shots - no luck and the quarter ends 94-63.
The fourth began with both teams battling for each bucket before a plateau of 105-71 was hit and both teams were stuck there for several minutes but the game wound down with DJ Jones hitting a dunk with 52 seconds remaining and drawing a cheer from the crowd. Dymond Fields and JRonn Jordan each got two buckets to round out the game.
Jalen McClish and his magical 3-point shot was the player of the game, which Coach Stucky said was "well deserved." He added that DJ Jones and JRonn Jordan were full of drive and energy during the match and compared them to the scrappy and enthusiastic play of Parker Austin, who has earned the nickname of "spiderman" from his teammates.
"I thought we did a pretty good job," laughed Stucky of the 121-85 victory.
And, as is common in MABA games, the two teams, coaches and referees joined the fans to visit, laugh and sign autographs. This time, for Fan and Dad Appreciation Day, there was ice cream, too.
"One of my favorite things about watching MABA and Wizards games is the camaraderie on this level," said Communications Manager Lisa Henshall of the Wizards. "We were blessed to have hundreds of treats from the East Central Dairy Queen - shout out to all the team members there that made them for us! - and it was a joy to see players from each team enjoying them after the game, talking about their lives and basketball. It just can't be beat."
A FEW MORE KEY STATS:
Veteran Austin scored all eight of his points in the first half while leauge MVP Gary dropped all seven of his in the second half.
Terrance Reese scored 27 for Tri-State to lead all scorers.
D.J. Jones supplied 13 points off the bench for Wichita.
The Wizards shot 41% from the floor despite going 8 of 47 from deep (17%).
The 66ers hit 14 trays and finished 34% from the field.
The Wizards play the OKC Servants in Oklahoma City June 24 for the inaugural Mid-America Basketball Association (MABA) championship.