Hays High comes back from 19 down to win at the buzzer
HAYS, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Hays High junior point guard Carson Kieffer has stood among the state’s assists leaders the past two winters, including ranking second this year with six a contest. Last weekend, Kieffer collected MVP honors at the Orange and Black tournament in Colby. HHS coach Alex Hutchins has labeled Kieffer incredible at setting up his teammates.
On Friday, Kieffer went through some shooting struggles, including four straight missed three throws early in the third quarter and an air ball trey with just under three minutes left in the fourth.
However, Kieffer went nearly full court in the final 10 seconds and sunk a buzzer-beater layup for a 47-46 home victory against Salina Central. Hays High never led until Kieffer’s shot and came back from 19 at halftime.
“He is never inconsistent with the ball in his hands,” Hutchins said. “And that was really why we ended up where we did offensively is just we know that he is going to be strong. We know that he is going to be aggressive and try to make a play, and if it’s not there for him, he will try to make it for someone else.”
Hays High, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, improved to 13-0 and won its 21st straight contest. HHS is long known for its vocal band and student section. Friday marked the first time the Indians had enjoyed the student section this winter because of coronavirus precautions. As soon as the game ended, Kieffer was mobbed by a big group of students at midcourt.
“I have never had that feeling,” Kieffer said. “Crowd was everywhere, and it was hard to breathe, but it was fun. It was great. They brought great energy.”
Salina Central took a 46-45 advantage with 10.1 seconds left after senior Reed McHenry sunk the second of two foul shots. McHenry delivered a game-high 26 points. Hays High inbounded the ball in the full court.
“I just tried to be patient with the 10 seconds that I had,” Kieffer said.
Junior forward Jace Linenberger set Kieffer a screen just in front of the top of the arc. Kieffer momentarily lost the ball, though still worked around the screen.
Senior forward Dalyn Schwarz sealed the backside block. Kieffer looked for Schwarz, who paced HHS with 16 points.
“It wasn’t there,” Kieffer said.
Kieffer worked around the defender and into the right side of the lane.
He drove inside and past SC sophomore Kenyon McMillan and junior Nolan Puckett. Instead of shooting the layup with his right hand, Kieffer switched to his left. Kieffer is “more comfortable” finishing with his left.
“It was to kind of not let them get the ball inside,” McHenry said. “Because that’s where they’d been kind of beating us, and we didn’t let that happen. But we let them get baseline, and then we got kind of what we wanted, but we let up a little bit on the drive.”
He made the left-handed layup as time expired. Kieffer, who averages 12 points a contest, finished with five, all in the second half.
“It wasn’t a good shooting night, but we got the W, so that’s all that matters,” Kieffer said.
Hutchins, who had briefly served as a head coach in Colorado and Minneapolis, is in his third season with the Indians. He went 14-8 with the girls and stands at 30-6 with the boys, including a 5A Forever Four run last winter.
Hutchins said he’s never had a game when a team has come from that far down. Hays High trailed 32-13 at halftime. HHS had 12 turnovers and made just one trey in the first half. McHenry tallied 16 points before intermission.
“I just looked for opportunities to drive,” McHenry said. “I used my shot fake on the 3 to get inside, and I just kind of maneuvered my body around them.”
Hutchins was a “little nervous” at halftime that Hays High trailed by too much. Last season yielded a similar occurrence.
“Pretty much, we were just playing soft is what coach said,” Kieffer said. “We just needed to be strong and lock in on the defensive end.”
On Jan. 31, 2020, Central beat Hays High, 54-33 and led 33-20 at halftime. HHS’ last win versus the Mustangs came in a 64-53 victory on Feb. 9, 2016.
“That was the one thing that we were concerned about is did we wait too long, did we let them get too far away?,” he said. “We’ve had some ones where we’d come back from nine or we come back from 12, but against a team like that, that is perfectly comfortable playing a slow pace, low-scoring game – they are willing to grind on both ends of the court, 19 was a lot.”
Salina Central dropped to 4-8, though had previously lost 66-61 in overtime to rival Salina South, currently undefeated and second in 5A. Both Salina schools and Hays High will be in the Salina South sub-state.
“Kind of really close games where I feel we should have came out on top,” McHenry said. “I mean, we haven’t, but hopefully that prepares us for the future, and going into the sub-state.”
HHS entered with an average margin of victory of 25 points a contest, though the Mustangs play a tougher schedule. In addition, SC has three defeats to Haysville Campus and Andover, teams that have a combined three losses.
“The officiating crew let us play,” Hutchins said. “They let it be physical. Salina is used to that probably a lot more than we are, because they play bigger, faster, stronger teams than us.”
Hays High’s only close game was a 64-63 overtime win versus 3A Hoisington on Dec. 15. Friday yielded a season-low for points.
“So far this year, it’s been pretty easy,” Hutchins said. “We haven’t really had any of these moments, any adversity, and so this was good. We kind of took a haymaker to the jaw, and we were stumbling, and so the guys did a good job in the second half of gathering themselves and bouncing back.”
Hays High, which returned all but one rotational player from last winter, opened the second half 4 of 4 from 3-point range. SC led 37-29 with 4:20 remaining in the third. Kieffer sunk the first one, and then had an assist on a corner trey from senior T.J. Nunnery.
“T.J. is kind of the one that jolted us back to life and gave us a little bit of energy,” Hutchins added.
In a 12-second stretch early in the third, Kieffer had a steal and missed two free throws. Then, he drew another foul and missed two more, though the 6-foot-6 Linenberger grabbed the offensive rebound and scored. SC missed 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior Caden Kickhaefer with an ankle injury.
“They were hitting a ton of shots,” McHenry said. “Everything was falling for them, and they were switching a lot, which gave us a little bit of trouble.”
With 1:25 left in the third, Hays High had zero turnovers and fouls in the quarter. SC had six fouls and eight turnovers.
“Central gave us something that we needed really bad,” Hutchins said. “We needed to be pushed like that. Literally and figuratively, we needed to be pushed, so we are thankful for that.”
In the fourth, Linenberger and Schwarz cross-screened in the post, and Kieffer hit Linenberger for a pass and basket with 4:07 left to cut the deficit to 45-43. Then, Schwarz made two free throws with 38.1 seconds remaining to tie.
“Carson does a great job of making the defense pay for whatever is there,” Hutchins said. “Really the thought process was, ‘Get Carson the ball.’ Try to get him a screen out high to get a little separation, and either he is going to get himself a bucket, or hopefully get one of the other four guys on the court a bucket.”
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