The final week before the holiday season saw some crucial early-season league games on Tuesday night. Here’s a look back at what went down on the hardwood…

-Our featured Envista Credit Union Tuesday Night Hoops doubleheader brought us another thrilling boys contest, with Hayden spoiling Topeka High coach Eric King’s home debut in a 50-47 triumph. The game was the kind of low-scoring, moderately-paced, scrappy affair it needed to be for the Wildcats to have a chance, and they took advantage to earn their first win of the season. Hayden’s defensive strategy of staying in a 2-3 zone and being quick to position themselves under the basket to draw charges totally flustered the Trojans, who struggled to get the ball inside and committed at least half a dozen offensive fouls. The Wildcats used a 17-8 advantage in the third quarter to take a 36-28 lead to the 4th, and led by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter before the Trojans started a spirited late rally. The Trojans had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute but their free throw stroke betrayed them and Hayden was able to hang on, as Jalen Smith‘s last-ditch 65-foot heave at the buzzer that would have tied the game rattled off the rim. Hayden’s seniors, John Roeder and Noah Schneider, were their best players, with Schneider scoring eight of his 12 in the third quarter to help Hayden build their lead (and drawing a handful of those aforementioned charges) and Roeder scoring 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. Topeka High got 16 points from Da’Vonshai Harden, and some clutch three-point shooting from Geivonnii Williams helped the Trojans close the fourth quarter gap. There will be better days for the Trojans, who let their frustrations get the better of them at times and went through difficult stretches on both sides of the floor. But it was the Wildcats left The Dungeon with an impressive win over the two-time defending league champs and the belief that they can commit to their gameplan and win tough games as a team.

The girls game was an impressive rout by the top-ranked team in class 6A as the Lady Trojans defeated Hayden 65-31. Topeka High resembles a high-end sports car – they get to top speed so easily that you hardly notice, but by the time you do, they’re way out in front. Freshman sensation Kiki Smith had her fourth straight 20+ point game, scoring 21 to lead the Lady Trojans. She’s smooth finishing at the rim with either hand and a tenacious defender. Nija Canady added 15 points and 10 rebounds despite Hayden trying desperately to deny her the catch on post entries. Ja’Neysha Hendricks also made it into double figures with 10 points, showing Topeka High’s impressive depth. They have five scorers on the floor at any given time and are deep enough to keep the pedal to the metal on defense all game long, setting up transition opportunities and easy baskets. The Lady Wildcats did some impressive things in defeat. They handled Topeka High’s press fairly well, and Macy Smith‘s 12-point performance shows that she can be a scoring compliment to Sophia Purcell in the backcourt. But Hayden didn’t convert on enough of the rare open looks they got from the field and turned the ball over in the half-court offense too often to be able to hang with one of the state’s best teams.

-It was a split at Ken Darting Gymnasium as the Seaman Lady Vikes defeated Highland Park while the Scots boys earned the win in the second half of the doubleheader. The Lady Vikes are 3-0 and 2-0 in the Centennial League thanks to the stellar duo of Camryn Turner and Chloe Carter, who combined for 33 points. Carter’s 18 led the way, with Turner adding 15. Those two are going to get theirs offensively every night, and they team to provide the defensive and rebounding edge the Lady Vikes need. Highland Park got Asiya Taylor (17 points) and Dariauna Carter (12 points) into double figures, but Carter had a tough shooting night and the Lady Scots are still trying to develop depth so that their starters don’t run out of steam. The boys game saw Highland Park’s promising ‘Big Three’ of Juan’Tario Roberts, CJ Powell, and Jahi Peppers give the Vikings fits all night in a 67-49 win. Roberts went for 25 points, his third 20+ point game of the season already, while Peppers added 15 and Powell scored 13. All three are capable shooters and slashers, and Powell’s 6’7″ frame makes him a low-post threat as well. The Scots have already matched their win total from Mike Williams’ first season on the bench and it’s not too early to get excited about what they might accomplish. Seaman fell to 0-3 despite 15 points from their own intriguing sophomore guard, Ty Henry, who has the look of a player that can be the go-to scorer the Vikings need.

-Washburn Rural’s Junior Blues and Lady Blues earned hard-fought wins over Emporia at the Washburn Rural Activities Center. It took the Lady Blues a quarter to get rolling, but once they did, they turned in a fine offensive performance in a 57-49 win. Kasey Hamilton buried four threes on her way to a game-high 25 points. Becoming a more efficient shooter from the perimeter is the last step for Hamilton to become just about unguardable, given her ability to get to the basket. Rural also got a big night from freshman Brooklyn DeLeye, who scored a career-high 19 points. DeLeye is a terrific athlete with no fear of the varsity spotlight and has all the tools to be the next great one for Kevin Bordewick. Rural’s matchup against Topeka High this Friday night will be a telling barometer for the defending 6A champs. In the boys contest, Joe Berry had another monster night, pouring in 26 points, but Noah Krueger‘s three-point marksmanship was the separator for the Junior Blues in a 58-51 triumph. The senior buried four triples in a 16-point performance. Rural’s two most experienced players from last season’s 6A runner-up squad have been excellent so far this year and have given the team an offensive punch that will help them as their collective work on the defensive end gets stronger.

-In United Kansas Conference play last night, the Shawnee Heights Thunderbirds earned their first win of the season, beating an athletic Lansing squad 61-59. The T-Birds built an 18-point lead after three quarters and were able to withstand Lansing’s fourth quarter rally. Four different T-Birds scored nine or more points, with Harvey Davis Jr. and Carter Olson leading the way with 11 each. That kind of balance, and improved three-point shooting (Heights made eight threes in the game), should help Ken Darting’s squad find their footing after an 0-2 start. Meanwhile, the Heights girls dropped to 0-2 in league play with a 50-46 loss to the Lady Lions, despite another big night from Alie Fulks, who poured in 18 points.