GARDEN CITY — Everyone has been raving about the 3-point shooting exploits of the Hays High boys' basketball team this season.
And for good reason.
The Indians have been shooting on average approximately 35 per game, connecting on 30 percent of them.
Friday night, though, things heated up from deep for veteran coach Rick Keltner’s current long-range gunners.
Behind the eye-popping accuracy of junior Tradgon McCrae, who tied a school record with nine treys en route to a 36-point career night, the Indians rolled past their most likely serious challenger in the Western Athletic Conference by an 82-53 margin.
“As much as people want to talk about the 3's, it was our transition defense that set everything up for us tonight,” said Keltner, now in his 33rd season at HHS. “The kids are starting to understand how to guard people in their areas, and I thought that was the biggest reason for us getting out early.”
After averaging 30 percent from deep during the first eight games, the Indians came out blistering, hitting 7 of 12 in the first quarter alone. They finished with 17 of them off 34 attempts, an eye-popping 50 percent.
“We’ve got guys who got a lot of good shots tonight, and we’ve got guys who are dangerous,” Keltner said. “As long as we’re getting good shots, I don’t mind them shooting the 3's. I’m proud of the kids because they keep getting better.”
The Buffs did their best to keep pace with the Indians, but eventually not even a solid night of scoring for them was enough to stay within range.
After one quarter, it was 25-20 Hays, and the Indians already had connected on seven shots behind the arc.
“We did a lot of good things early, didn’t turn it over so much and rebounded well,” Garden City coach Jacy Holloway said. “But at some point, we just don’t have the same kind of offensive firepower they do. When a team is hitting 50 percent from that distance, you’re not gonna have a lot of success against them.”
It was the second, and then the third quarters, where the Buffs fizzled while the Indians sizzled. Hays High made six more treys in the second quarter and outscored the Buffs 22-11 and went in with a commanding 47-31 halftime advantage.
Then it got worse in the third quarter, Hays High turning the jets on even more, outscoring the Buffs 20-13 and enjoying a 67-44 advantage heading to the fourth.
The 30-point plus advantage set the running clock in motion, and yet the Indians still managed to put 15 points up on the board while limiting the Buffs to nine.
“Jacy’s got a good team, it was just one of those good nights for us when everything was working for us,” said Keltner, who admitted it was one of his team’s best defensive efforts of the season. “We’re fortunate to have good kids who work hard at the game.”
But nothing could offset the fireworks of McCrae, who torched the nets from everywhere. Ironically, one of his few misses of the night came on a fast-break layup that clanked the rim. McCrae balanced out his scoring, getting 14 in the first, nine in the second, five in the third and eight in the fourth.
Senior Ethan Nunnery, another deep threat, made 3 of 5 from behind the arc and finished with 14 points. In all, the Indians finished 25 of 51 for just under 50 percent shooting.
The Buffs finished hitting 20 of 54 shots for 37 percent, far below what Holloway said would be necessary to combat the Indians’ hot hands. The Buffs had a balanced scoring attack, with six players scoring six or more points, led by Jayden Crook and Demarcus Elliott with 10 each.
The lone bright spot for Garden came in rebounding where the Buffs held a narrow 33-32 edge, with Jarrod Springston topping the effort with seven boards. Nunnery matched that for the Indians.
With the victory, the Indians improved to 3-0 in the WAC and 7-2 overall. Their next outing will be Thursday against Manhattan in the Dodge City Tournament of Champions at United Wireless Arena.
Garden City heads to the Valley Center January Jam, where the Buffs will open the tournament Thursday against Topeka Seaman. They are now 2-1 in the WAC and 6-3 overall.