There’s a drive in Cole Murphy that never lets him be settled with a performance.
That constant effort and willingness to do what he needs to do to improve paid dividends Tuesday night for the Hays High School senior.
Murphy came up big during a crucial stretch with some long-range shooting, helping the Hays High School boys’ basketball team capture a 66-56 victory over Salina South at the HHS gym.
“It felt really good because it felt like I was struggling early on,” said Murphy, who scored 15 points and hit five 3-pointers. “It was big to hit some big shots to get us momentum. That helped us out.”
More importantly, the 10-point victory helped Hays High (9-5) snap a three-game losing streak against some of the top teams in the state.
“As coach said, he kept bringing up the losing streak,” Murphy said. “We didn’t want to keep adding onto that.”
His shooting made sure the skid would end Tuesday.
The Indians led 14-9 after the first quarter and 31-24 at halftime.
But Salina South (2-11) — which trailed at one point in the third quarter by 14 — still was within striking distance entering the final period as the Cougars trailed 47-37.
“We had a seven-day layoff,” said HHS coach Rick Keltner, whose team hadn’t played since losing to Salina Central a week earlier. “I think we just needed to get out there and go. We did some good things and showed some spurtability. But you have to give South credit. They did some things with tempo and tried to control the game.”
With Hays High leading 54-44 after a bucket by senior Peyton Kieffer, the Cougars went on a 6-0 run to pull within 54-50 with 4:09 to play.
But Murphy and the Indians answered. His 3-pointer from the left wing with 3:09 remaining started a 8-1 run that all but sealed the victory.
“I just feel like I should be one step higher,” Murphy said about wanting to continually improve his shooting. “I’m never satisfied.”
His second trey of the quarter came with 2:28 to play and was followed by one of two free throws by senior Ethan Nunnery to cap the spurt.
“He’s a spot-up shooter, and he can shoot off the dribble,” Nunnery said about Murphy, who scored 12 of his points in the second half. “He can shoot off anything, honestly — him and Trey.”
While Murphy was key down the stretch, junior Tradgon McCrae led the way early. He scored 12 points in the first half and finished with 20 for the game — the seventh time he’s reached double figures in the last nine games.
“We needed that pretty bad,” said Nunnery, who finished with 10 points of his own, along with numerous assists and rebounds from the point guard spot. “Coming off a three-game losing streak was pretty hard, but we got the ‘W’ and hopefully turned it around.”
The Cougars got 14 points from freshman A.J. Johnson, but not other Salina South player scored in double figures.
“It’s important just not to foul and be tougher on defense,” Nunnery said. “We just had to keep working hard. But our guys started hitting shots in the fourth quarter. That was good.”
The victory helped give the Indians some much-needed confidence entering Friday’s Western Athletic Conference game at Dodge City. Hays High is a perfect 3-0 in conference play and leads the WAC.
“We just have to keep getting better because we have a big game at Dodge on Friday,” Keltner said.
“I think it’s just important to get confidence and keep believing.”