A third-quarter offensive funk was too much for the Hays High boys to overcome in Tuesday's matchup with Salina South.
The Indians trailed 26-24 at halftime but were outscored 18-7 in the third quarter and couldn't complete a fourth-quarter rally, falling 65-51 to the Cougars at Hays High.
Salina South (10-3), ranked No. 7 in Class 5A, forced the Indians into a handful of turnovers and hurt the Indians in transition to build a 13-point lead heading into the fourth.
“They played great on defense, credit them,” Hays High coach Alex Hutchins said of the Cougars. “They’re long and rangy and it’s hard to get open shots, just because of their athleticism and length. They contest everything. But I think a lot of their transition opportunities were us having poor offensive possessions.
"We saw some promising things from the boys, but that run in the third quarter, I think you can attribute that to decision making on offense and us needing to work for better shots as much as anything."
Josh Jordan scored a game-high 17 for the Cougars, while Devon Junghans added 16 and Colin Schreiber chipped in 12.
Junghans opened the fourth with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 16, but the Indians’ turned up the pressure and got back into the game with a few steals, slicing the lead down to seven twice in the middle of the quarter.
South took better care of the ball in the last four minutes and used free throws and layups to put the Indians away.
Jordan Dale canned five 3-pointers for a career-high 15 points for the Indians (8-5).
"Jordan can make shots from the outside, and we've seen it in practice," Hutchins said. "We've talked to him lately and told him, 'One or two shots is not enough. You're too good of shooter, we've seen you hit too many in practice to only shoot that many (in games). There's no reason you shouldn't be shooting just as many as the other guards out on the court.'
"Seemed like it took him a little time to maybe settle in and open his mind to that idea. Once he did, it was awesome."
Despite the loss, Hutchins said the Indians took a step forward after last Friday's 54-33 setback at Salina Central.
"We were pleased with the effort we saw tonight," Hutchins said. "We think we improved from Friday in the game against Salina Central, and really that's the goal. The goal is to grow and develop and get better each game.
"We love these opportunities when the boys come out and fight against a ranked team, regardless of a win or loss. It's an opportunity to gauge ourselves and see where we stack up and see what we need to work on."
Salina South girls 44, Hays High 34
Salina South stormed out of the gates with a 17-4 lead and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way as Hays fell to 4-9 on the season.
"On offense, we really struggled," Hays High coach Kyle Porter said. "We struggled to move the ball, we struggled to handle their pressure and that hurt us early on. We did get better looks as the game went on.
"There's a lot that we need to work on and improve upon to get better. Didn't think we had our best stuff tonight, to say the least."
South led 26-11 at the break and 38-18 at the end of the third quarter.
Porter gave Hays High's underclassmen heavy minutes off the bench, looking for a spark. He took solace in seeing the Indians cut the deficit down to 10 in the late stages with the result already decided.
"I think our underclassmen played really well in the amount of time that they were given. I think they competed hard," Porter said. "A lot of our main issues are just fundamental related, being able to dribble, pass and shoot together to get a good shot. We just didn't have our best stuff tonight. But I was pleased with how our bench played."
Acacia Weis paced a balanced scoring attack for the Cougars with 10 points. Sydney Peterson finished with seven, while Kylie Arnold, Maraiah Janda and Victoria Maxton scored six apiece.
Maia Lummus scored eight points for the Indians.