GARDEN CITY — On a night when the usual long-range missile launches were missing, the Hays High Indians went to their short-range offensive weapon en route to a solid, if not impressive, 48-34 Western Athletic Conference victory Friday night over the Garden City Buffaloes.
That short-range weapon came in the form of 6-3 wide-body Shane Berens, who has inherited the inside role from the graduated Brady Werth, who tormented the Buffs for four years.
Friday night, in spoiling the Winter Homecoming festivities of the Buffs in which Garden’s leading scorer, senior Jared Koster, was named Homecoming King, the Indians made it an unpleasant night for the 5-9 senior guard, who was averaging just under 18 points.
While Berens was having his way in the paint, getting four field goals in eight attempts, he also went to the free throw line, sinking all eight for a game-high 16 points. He recorded a double-double by pulling down 12 rebounds as the Indians dominated the boards, 33-26.
For veteran coach Rick Keltner, it was a night where the Indians did enough to produce a key road win.
“I’ve got so much respect for Garden and Coach (Jacy) Holloway, so I’m always happy to get out of here with a win,” Keltner said afterward. “They’ve got so many shooters that it’s sometimes difficult to defend, but I thought defensively we did a good job of guarding the perimeter and limited their good looks at basket.”
Indeed, the Indians trailed only once, that coming early at 9-8 with 2:30 left in the first. They were up 12-9 at the end of the period and then opened the second on a tear, going on an 11-3 run to take a 23-12 lead with a minute remaining before the break. Included in that hot stretch were a pair of treys, one each from Isaiah Nunnery, who scored 14 points, and Laken Jacob.
Garden, though, got a 3-pointer from Zac Karlin and a steal and layup from Garret Doll in the closing seconds to trim the Hays lead to 25-19 at intermission.
“At times we didn’t do a very good job of protecting the ball, but I thought we did a good job against their zone, since we don’t see that very often,” Keltner said. “I thought we played hard.”
With the slowdown tempo coming on the heels of a 90-44 Tuesday blowout of Great Bend, Keltner said his team had to adjust to the slower pace.
“We’re gonna see a lot of different looks from teams from here on out, so it was good for us to see that zone,” he said.
When the Buffs scored a basket at the outset of the third, Hays’ lead had dwindled to four. A 7-0 spurt gave the Indians some breathing room and they owned a 32-23 advantage at the end of the third.
Then, when the fourth quarter got under way, Keltner had to like what he saw.
The Indians started an 8-0 blitz in the first three minutes to take a choke hold on the game, 40-23. While the lead did slip to 11, 44-33, there was just over a minute left, and with the hourglass ticking down, time ran out on the Buffs. They hit 3 of their 6 3-pointers in a span of two minutes there in the fourth, but it was too little, too late.
The game, in so many ways, boiled down to how dominant Berens was on the inside. Numerous times he was not only able to get the rebound and a stick back, but he kept loose balls alive by tipping it to a teammate.
“No doubt, Shane was effective for us, so that’s nice to be able to go inside when our shooters are having a tough night,” Keltner said. “Perhaps we were a little too quick to shoot the threes tonight (3 of 14). But, again, a win on the road is always good.”
The Indians, now 8-1 overall and 3-0 in the WAC, will head to Dodge City to compete in the prestigious Tournament of Champions. Their opening-round game will be at 7 p.m. Thursday against Wichita East. Garden City, which is now 3-7 overall and 0-3 in the WAC, plays Thursday in the Valley Center January Jam against Maize South.
Hays 48, Garden City 34
HAYS HIGH (48)
Swayne 0-0 0-0 0, E. Nunnery 0-1 0-0 0, I. Nunnery 6-13 0-0 14, Young 3-11 1-2 7, Davis 1-1 0-0 2, Winter 1-4 0-0 2, Jacob 2-3 0-0 5, Dryden 1-5 0-1 2, Berens 4-10 8-8 16, Altman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-49 9-11 48.
GARDEN CITY (35)
Doll 3-12 0-0 7, Koster 2-6 0-0 5, Brunson 1-5 0-0 3, Karlin 2-6 0-0 5, Leal 2-5 1-2 6, Aguilar 2-3 0-0 5, Ortiz 0-0 0-0 0, Schmidt 1-2 1-2 3, Tanner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-39 2-4 34.
Hays (8-1, 3-0) 12 13 7 16 — 48
Garden City (3-7/0-3) 9 10 4 11 — 34
3-point goals—Hays 3-14 (I. Nunnery 2-7, Young 0-3, Jacob 1-2, Dryden 0-2), Garden City 6-19 (Doll 1-6, Koster 1-4, Brunson 1-2, Karlin 1-4, Leal 1-2, Aguilar 1-1). Rebounds—Hays 33 (Berens 12), Garden City 26 (Schmidt 8). Turnovers—Hays 8, Garden City 16. Fouls—Hays 9, Garden City 14. Fouled out—none. Technical fouls—none.