DODGE CITY — Things went well for roughly 31 minutes for the Hays High boys’ basketball team in their Tournament of Champions opener against Wichita East on Thursday night at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena.
The Indians led 61-50 with a little more than 90 seconds to play after a skillful layup from senior Shane Berens. From there on, however, things turned video game-esque.
“I got nothing but good things to say about them other than the last minute and a half,” HHS coach Rick Keltner said of his team.
Clemson football commit Xavier Kelly answered Berens’s bucket with a jumper of his own, starting the Indians’ undoing with 1:25 to play.
Hays High appeared destined to hold the ball and put the game away from the free-throw line, but the opposite happened. After an Indian missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, HHS’s only free throw of the night, Wichita East’s Elijah Kelly hit his first 3-pointer — and Wichita East’s second of the game — to bring the Blue Aces within four with 46 seconds to play.
HHS beat the Blue Aces’ press and could have pulled the ball out to either run down the clock or force Wichita East to foul. Instead, a HHS player drove to the rim and missed a contested layup.
At the other end, Wichita East guard Michae’l McKinney converted a three-point play with just over 20 seconds to play to bring the Blue Aces within one.
The Indians successfully inbounded again, but when they passed the ball ahead, the recipient of the pass stepped on the sideline while dribbling up court.
With the game on the line and less than 20 seconds to play, the Blue Aces went back to Elijah Kelly. Although it appeared one of his teammates might have traveled, the ball made its way to Kelly at the top of the key.
He sunk his second three of the late stages and put the Blue Aces up two. It was Wichita East’s first lead since early in the first quarter.
“We got there by playing great defense and having good possessions,” Keltner said. “We gave it up by not having great possessions and turning it over, something to work on.”
Kelly left the Indians a few seconds to get up court, but the whistles blew with four-tenths of a second on the clock. With Hays High fans yelling — and hoping — for a foul signal, the referee motioned for a double dribble, all but ending the game with Wichita East ahead 63-61 after closing the game on a 13-0 run.
“It was a great game,” Keltner said. “We looked like a pretty good team for most of that game. Then at the end, it had the things every close game has — a controversial call. That kinda stuff is all part of the package. We just gotta be a little tougher.”
The first two quarters were played very evenly. After the Blue Aces jumped out to an 8-3 lead and looked poised to control the game, Berens knocked in a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers. He finished the opening quarter with 13 of the Indians’ 16 points and helped the Indians lead by two after eight minutes.
Berens also finished the opening period with two fouls. With Berens on the bench for the entirety of the second quarter, the Indians held on to take a 30-28 lead into halftime.
At halftime, 16 of the Indians’ 23 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc with the Blue Aces playing a 1-3-1 zone. Keltner’s squad made six in the first half and finished the game 9 for 25. The coach was pretty happy with the looks his team got even after the opponents went to a man-to-man later in the game.
“We can do that,” Keltner said of his team’s shooting performance. “I thought we got good shots. I thought we had some great possessions.”
The Indians’ strong play continued into the third quarter. Senior Keith Dryden opened the quarter with a 3-pointer and Isaiah Nunnery drained one from the corner soon after. Laken Jacobs put the Indians up by 10 points with a bucket midway through the third. HHS closed the third quarter by holding the ball for nearly a minute, hoping to get the last shot before Nunnery lost possession in the final seconds on a drive to the basket.
HHS opened the final quarter with an eight-point lead.
Wichita East spent the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter cutting the Indians’ lead in half, but Dryden boosted the lead to seven, drilling a corner three off an inbounds play. The Indians extended the lead to double figures before the Blue Aces’ late run.
Berens led the Indians with 19 points, while Dryden added 15. James Caldwell scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the first half with McKinney and Xavier Kelly adding 12 apiece.
Despite the late mistakes, the HHS coach found positives to take away from his team’s performance against one of the top teams in Class 6A.
“I think they’re a pretty good team,” Keltner said. “I don’t know how good any of us are right now, but I know we showed signs of a team that could be up 11 with a minute something to go against a good team.”
With the Indians looking to get back on track on a short turnaround., Keltner hopes his team can get back into video game mode and prevent Thursday’s close lose from affecting their play against Hutchinson today in consolation action at 2 p.m
“These are young kids,” the HHS coach said. “They grew up playing computer games. They hit reset when they lose. We’ll hit reset.”
Wichita East 63, Hays High 61
Hays High 16 14 18 13 — 61
Wichita East 14 14 12 23 — 63
Hays High — E. Nunnery 2, I. Nunnery 9, Young 4, Hill 2, Winter 6, Jacobs 4, Dryden 15, Berens 19.
Wichita East — Stanford 4, McKinney 12, O’Day 7, E. Kelly 8, X. Kelly 12, Hartley 4, Caldwell 16.