By AUSTIN COLBERT
For much of the first half, the Pratt High School boys' basketball team had trouble matching Hays High School junior point guard Isaiah Nunnery on the scoreboard. And with the rest of the Indians backing Nunnery up, Hays High was able to make easy work of Pratt on Tuesday in a 71-42 win at the HHS gym.
"Coming off a loss we wanted to come out more intense and fired up," said Nunnery, referring to the Indians' 45-32 loss to Olathe North in the Hays City Shootout championship game on Saturday. "So we were really into this game and just did everything coach told us and it clicked tonight."
It was Nunnery's first-half performance that sparked a big run for the Indians. Hays High turned a one-point lead midway through the first quarter into a 19-point lead by halftime. Nunnery finished with a career-high 23 points -- 18 in the first half alone -- and has led the team in scoring in three of four games to open the season, averaging 16 points a game for the 3-1 Indians.
"He is so unselfish that I kind of love the way he plays. I told you from Day 1 he is going to be pretty good," HHS coach Rick Keltner said. "He's a shooter and he's unselfish and he's a good passer and he's a strong kid, a rebounder. He'll deflect a ball one wing and get a loose ball on the other wing on the same possession."
Pratt (0-2), ranked No. 8 in Class 4A Division II, led 6-3 in the early moments behind a pair of made 3-pointers. Then Hays High went on an 8-2 run, six of the points scored by senior forward Brady Werth before a couple of fouls sent him to the bench.
Nunnery scored his first basket to make it 11-8, a small prelude to what was about to come. With a 14-11 lead, Nunnery went wild, scoring eight points in less than two minutes to make it 22-11 Indians. Pratt finished the quarter on a small run and trailed just 24-18 to enter the second quarter.
Back came Nunnery, back-to-back 3-pointers by the point guard to immediately push the lead out to 30-18. Nunnery then found senior guard Cash Hobson for a nice transition layup and followed with his own basket to make it 34-18 Indians. Hays High led 41-22 at halftime behind Nunnery's 18 first-half points.
"We were just running the offense and my teammates were finding me and I was just able to hit down open shots. It was mainly my teammates," said the 6-foot-2 Nunnery, who is in his first season as a varsity starter. "We are still getting used to each other. Fourth game into the season we are a little bit more comfortable with each other, so we are figuring out what each other can do."
Nunnery relegated much of the second-half scoring duties to junior guard Keith Dryden, who had 15 points over the final two quarters and finished just a point behind Nunnery with a career-high 22 points. Nunnery and Dryden combined to make seven of the team's eight 3-pointers.
"I've been telling Keith I want to get his jersey dirty because sometimes he avoids contact on drives, and tonight I thought he had some really nice takes. We know he's got a nice shot," Keltner said. "We've only been together four games in this combination, but I felt we got some flow on offense where we felt like it wasn't so hard to find people."
Hays High improved in nearly every facet from the Shootout, especially after a demoralizing fourth-quarter against Olathe North where they were outscored 10-2. The defense rebounded in a big way against Pratt, holding the Greenbacks to 11 points over the second and third quarters when the Indians pulled away.
"Coach just told us to get after it and stay after them," Nunnery said. "So we just had to get a hand up on the shooters and that was our goal. No open threes and no easy shots. So that's all we tried to do."
Another improvement came in their ability to find Werth in the post, something that was all too difficult over the first three games. Despite limited time with foul trouble, the Fort Hays State University basketball signee still finished with 12 points, half of which came in the early minutes of the game.
"To win we got to get the ball to Brady," Nunnery said. "He is the leader of this team. He's got to be the center role of our offense. Tonight we just tried to find him more than we have."
The Indians, ranked No. 3 in 4A-I, will continue their early-season onslaught of games on Thursday when they travel to Colby High School (0-3).
Game time has been pushed back to accommodate the junior varsity games, the girls' varsity game expected to begin around 6:30 p.m. and boys' to follow.
Hays High 71, Pratt 42
Pratt 18 4 7 13 -- 42
HHS 24 17 17 13 -- 71
Pratt -- Samson Kohman 18, Hayes 7, Kurz 5, Barnard 3, Myers 3, Ruckle 2, Sullivan 2, Stephens 2
HHS -- Isaiah Nunnery 23, Keith Dryden 22, Brady Werth 12, Hobson 5, Davis 3, Ficken 3, Swayne 2, E. Nunnery 1