It happened as he crossed the 3-point line.
Then Tradgon McCrae put on the brakes and calmly dribbled behind his back.
As the Liberal defender fell to the ground, McCrae stepped back behind the line, draining the trey.
The Hays High School student section went wild, and Liberal called a timeout.
Those few seconds and another solid first quarter left the Redskins trying to pick themselves up all night long as the Hays High boys rolled to a 74-56 win Friday in their WAC opener at the HHS gym.
“It’s just fun seeing the crowd react and our student section going wild,” McCrae said. “Then hitting the shot on top of it makes it even better.”
The junior scored seven of his 14 points in the first quarter, the final three coming on an off-balanced 3-pointer at the buzzer — making the HHS fans go wild once again — as the Indians led 22-7 after the first eight minutes.
“It was a good first quarter for me,” McCrae said. “(Kyler) Koenke got the offensive rebound to me, and I knew there wasn’t much time left. I just threw it up, and luckily it went in.”
It was that kind of night for McCrae. And he wasn’t the only one that kept the Redskins trying to stagger to their feet against the run-and-gun Indians.
Senior Peyton Kieffer finished with 17 points — 14 in the second half — and senior Kyler Koenke added 16 — 10 in the first half.
That was more than enough to give Hays High (5-2, 1-0) a win on their home floor.
“It’s really a fun group of kids,” said HHS coach Rick Keltner. “I like watching them play. … We have a balanced team and some guys that can do some damage.”
The Indians led 36-19 at halftime and pushed the margin to 27 points three different times in the third quarter before leading 56-34 entering the final period.
“It’s a great win, the first WAC game,” McCrae said. “You’re on your home court, and you always want to get a win in front of your fans. Today, we got that done.”
Things got a bit sluggish in the fourth, as Liberal (3-4, 0-1) trimmed the margin to 66-52 with 2:40 to play.
But Koenke scored on a putback, Kieffer scored on a layup and Koenke followed with one of his own to push the score to 72-52 with 1:10 remaining.
“I was happy with the way we started the game,” Keltner said. “After a long layoff, you never know how it will be because it’s hard to simulate but we try game situations during Christmas break. I thought the guys came out and did some nice things and played well. I thought once we got ahead, it got a little foggy. But that’s something I’m not surprised at at this time of year, and it’s a little human nature. We played well and showed some glimpses of doing some stuff.”
Liberal was led by Tristen Bigham’s 18 points, and Cameron Riley notched 11. But no other Redskin scored more than eight.
Eleven different HHS players scored, including senior Cole Murphy with nine. He accounted for three of the Indians’ 10 triples.
“Our guys play hard, and they don’t stand around on defense,” Keltner said. “We don’t walk the ball up the court, and we try not to let other teams walk it up the court. It just takes effort to try to make people play fast. Our guys worked hard, and maybe we got a little conditioning in tonight that will help us down the line.”
Also important was the conference win in the team’s WAC opener, putting HHS on solid ground to start a run at a title. The Indians will get a chance to improve to 2-0 in conference play when they host rival Great Bend on Tuesday.
“And the times we won it, we’ve had to win somewhere tough on the road, too,” Keltner said. “We just have to try to get better every night and try to play better every night. After that, you get ready for the next one.”