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Close-knit Eisenhower closes in on goal

Published March 4 at 6:51 p.m. | Last updated March 4 at 6:52 p.m.

Eisenhower senior Matt Morris doesn’t even need to make eye contact with Trevon Evans to know whether his teammate is going to shoot or make a sweet pass.

If senior Daniel Southworth has the ball, Morris knows whether he’ll drive to the basket and shoot or kick it to someone on the perimeter.

This kind of knowledge comes from playing game after game together, even dating back to their team when they were kids, the Wichita Rebels.

“I’ve played with this team for years upon years,” Morris said. “I feel like I’m able to read my teammates.”

Such chemistry is vital as Eisenhower (19-1) opens postseason play by hosting Goddard (4-16) at 7:30 Wednesday night. With a win, Eisenhower would, on Friday, host the winner of Liberal (6-14) at Maize South (15-5).

The Eisenhower players usually text or tweet at each other if they’re not together. Morris has taken freshman Matt Pile under his wing and they’ve become close friends. Evans calls junior Bailey Strunk the younger brother he wishes he had.

“We know how people will react if we say something to them,” Evans said. “We know how they would feel if we use a tone in a different way. We know how they’re going to respond to certain situations.”

He said Morris can take the most.

“You can yell at him all you want, and he’ll just start playing harder,” Evans said. “It’s great having someone like him on the team.”

Strunk is the comedian, and Brennan Stemple, Griffin Jones and Tyler Buchanan are also the funny guys.

So is there a calming presence on the team?

“That’s probably Daniel,” Evans said. “He really keeps us in line, tries to get us to stay focused. I just feel I’m part of everything, really. I know I’m the leader of the team, supposed to keep them focused, supposed to keep everybody in line.”

The friendship between the players has resulted in a team with one goal of getting to the 5A tournament. Eisenhower had one regular season loss in 2012-13, as well, but lost to Kapaun in the sub-state final.

“Every time someone says ‘sub-state,’ Kapaun pops into my head,” Evans said. “It was very tough. We thought we would just come in and go to state. We had such a successful season. When they came in and beat us on our home court, it was rough.”

Evans was an All-State selection by The Eagle in 2013, averaging 25.8 points with eight games of 30 or more, including a season-high 44 points.

In Eisenhower’s final regular season game on Feb. 27, Evans had 13 points, while Buchanan and Strunk each had 16, Southworth and Stemple had 12 apiece and Morris had 11.

Eisenhower doesn’t need Evans to put up big offensive numbers to win.

“He’s been a better leader, a lot more vocal in practice, picking guys up. He leads in high fives,” Eisenhower coach Steve Blue said. “This year he’s focused on us being successful and doing what he needs.”

Evans’ scoring is only down three points a game, and he’s averaging 22.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

“Everyone’s acting like I’m just supposed to score 30 points every game,” Evans said. “Our team is a lot different than we were last year. We have more people that can score. Tyler’s been great. I don’t have to score as much for us to win. It’s great to have that lifted off of me.”

Eisenhower has the depth and balance to win a 5A title, and the Tigers knew they had something special heading into the season with a strong core of Evans, Southworth and Morris, all three-year starters.

Stemple and Southworth each average 7 points per game, while Southworth adds 5.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists. Morris averages 10 points, 6.2 rebounds.

Eisenhower can shoot threes or battle inside. Quickness helps defensively, and to move the ball up the floor to score in transition.

But when Buchanan transferred in from Indiana, the addition was welcome. He provides another body inside and he can step out to shoot the three. He’s averaging 13.7 points, 7.8 rebounds.

Just as critical? Buchanan fit in well with the team. He’s Eisenhower’s sixth man, but he is so athletic that he could start for most other schools.

“He’s so unselfish,” Blue said. “He’s not trying to do anything else other than fit in. The seniors know they need him. He gives us a lot of things other players can’t give you.

“He has fit in perfectly. Like he’s been here the entire time.”

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.

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