A lot can be said about the strength of the City League, and with a 59-56 win over a previously unbeaten Derby squad, Southeast backed up the league’s reputation yet again.
Kevin Gunter gave the Buffaloes the lead for good with just under a minute left as he slipped down the baseline and threw down a thunderous two-handed dunk.
“I’m glad he did it. It’s about time,” Southeast head coach Carl Taylor said of Gunter’s go-ahead basket. “That boy has got skills.”
Southeast looked poised to make a run early, opening the game on a 9-3 run. Derby quickly settled into a rhythm behind a steady performance from Josiah Ray down low to close the gap to one point at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was just as tight with neither team willing to give way to the other. Ray and senior Kyler Steadman paced the way for Derby while Gunter and D’Avonte Garland controlled the floor for Southeast.
Garland capped off the first half scoring with a long three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Buffaloes a 36-35 edge heading into the break. The senior scored 12 first half points and finished the game with 18.
The gritty performance from his seniors was just what Taylor was looking for after struggling through the early part of the season.
“We haven’t played very well,” Taylor said of his team’s 2-3 mark heading into Saturday. “We’re trying to get that team chemistry back.”
“We’re still coming together,” Gunter said of his teammates; several of whom are logging their first varsity minutes. “Me and D’Avonte are the only returners really, so everyone else is getting their first look at varsity. Everyone is coming along though and we’re getting better as a unit.”
The third quarter was much of the same and following a three-point play by Ray, Derby grabbed a 49-48 lead going into the fourth.
Southeast would regain the lead and push it to as many as three before Steadman locked it up a 56-56 after calmly draining a three-point basket from well behind the line.
Gunter would provide the exclamation point though, slamming home the go-ahead bucket with 45 seconds left.
Derby came up empty on each of their last two possessions as Southeast’s defense clamped down. More importantly, the Buffaloes did not allow Steadman to get a clean look at the basket. Instead, they forced the Panthers to rely on their underclassmen. Freshman James Conley and sophomore Jeremy Dunham each came up short on a pair of three-point shots, locking up a win for Southeast (3-3).
“It was just a good team effort and that’s what it took to beat these people,” Taylor said. “They weren’t 6-0 for nothing.”
Gunter and Reggie Smith each finished with 12 points for Southeast. The Buffaloes return home to take on West on Tuesday.
Derby drops to 6-1 on the season despite another solid performance from Steadman, who finished with 21 points. The senior scored 26 points the night before in a win over Salina Central. Ray finished with 15. The Panthers will host Salina South on Tuesday.