Mustangs come up short in regular season finale

Iola High's Mustangs struggled in their regular season finale, a 65-48 loss, in the team's final game before the Class 3A Substate Tournament begins next week. Iola hosts Heritage Christian Academy at 7 p.m. Monday.



February 23, 2024 - 3:13 PM

Iola High's Casey Rowe, right, looks for a shot while being defended by Santa Fe Trail's Jalen Smith Thursday. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

CARBONDALE — With Iola High’s playoff seeding already in place, the Mustangs entered Thursday’s regular season finale at Santa Fe Trail more focused on how they played rather than the final score.

Things didn’t go according to script.

The host Chargers blitzed Iola early, leading 29-9 midway through the second quarter.

Then, after Iola improved its perimeter defense, Santa Fe Trail answered by feeding the ball to its 6-5 junior Jalen Smith, who scored almost at will down the stretch.

Iola’s 65-48 loss left head coach Luke Bycroft in a sour mood.

“We won’t beat anybody next week if we show up like that,” Bycroft said. “It’s not like Santa Fe Trail is bad or anything, but we didn’t show up to compete. That’s the main thing you want to see.”

Iola played zone defense early on, which led to a flurry of Charger 3-pointers.

“We didn’t extend our zone like we should have,” Bycroft said. “We did a better job of defending the perimeter when we went to our man-to-man defense, but then we didn’t take away the dump down to the blocks.”

Iola High’s Mac Leonard (10) is fouled by Santa Fe Trail defender Vaughn Decker as he puts up a field goal attempt Thursday.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Smith was more than happy to take it from there. He scored 13 of the Chargers’ 17 fourth-quarter points.

“We were as flat as could be. We had no energy. We wouldn’t help, wouldn’t rotate. There was no conversation. We didn’t locate a man, and just let a guy come up and shoot.”

Iola stayed within shouting distance after its slow start.

Landon Weide’s jumper late in the half capped Iola’s best sequence of the night, cutting Santa Fe Trail’s lead to 33-23.

The lead yo-yoed between 12 and 15 points from there.

Cortland Carson’s 3-pointer late in the third quarter pulled Iola to within 47-35, but he was whistled for a technical foul as he retreated up the court.

“He didn’t say anything foul or vulgar, but he did say something to the official,” Bycroft said.

In accordance to Bycroft’s long-standing policy, that meant spending the rest of the game on the bench.

Carson finished with 16  and four steals to lead the Mustangs. Weide was next with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Mustangs were without the services of starting forward Grady Dougherty because of illness.

IOLA’S shift from Class 4A to Class 3A made for a scheduling quirk in that Thursday’s game was essentially meaningless in terms of postseason playoff position.

Class 4A playoff seedings are not set until this weekend; those in Class 3A and smaller had their seedings announced Wednesday.

“We’ve got it changed for next year,” Bycroft said. “We won’t be playing this one after seeding.