Never quite finding their offensive rhythm, the Hays High boys still managed to hang around with Salina Central long enough to have a chance at a rally in the fourth quarter.
But after cutting the deficit to seven early in the fourth, the Indians couldn't come up with the big push they needed to take down the Mustangs, falling 52-39 on Friday at Hays High.
"We had some moments where we had some chances to try to do something," Hays High coach Rick Keltner said. "We just got to keep getting better."
After a 5-5 tie early, Salina Central (10-2) never trailed, ending the first quarter on a 14-3 run and building a 32-18 lead by halftime.
Hays shot 44.8 percent from the field but the Indians were hurt by 19 turnovers.
"We had some crucial turnovers where we got stripped, and we threw it away three straight times in the first quarter," Keltner said. "You don't want to start a game like that against a team like Central."
The Indians also struggled to keep the Mustangs off the offensive glass and lost the rebound battle 34-20.
"We gave up 11 offensive rebounds the first half; that's something we can't do, especially when you got height on people, but they're strong kids who've been in weight room and they really pushed us around in there," Keltner said.
Salina Central was led by Harper Williams' 15 points while David Grammer added 11. Braiden Meyers had 12 points on four 3-pointers to lead Hays High. Tradgon McCrae scored 11 before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs moved to 10-2 on the season while Hays fell to 6-5.
"I don't think we'll play anybody better than them, and I'm not trying to insult anybody else," Keltner said of the Mustangs. "They're physical, they play good defense and they can shoot the ball. I think it's a good experience for our guys in some ways if we learn from it and just keep working."
Hays will play three games next week starting with a road contest at Salina South on Tuesday.
"Just got to keep getting better," Keltner said. "It's frustrating. None of us want to get beat. It's just about the day. We didn't win the day and we got to get better."