HAYS — Too bad for the Great Bend High School boys’ basketball team that they started lighting up the Hays High Gymnasium with 3-pointers just a little too late.
The Panthers nailed four of their six 3s in the fourth quarter on Friday night, including three in the final one-minute, 42 seconds.
Trouble was, Hays already had a 46-32 lead entering the final eight minutes. Despite the Panthers’ late barrage, the Indians scored its final seven points at the free-throw line during the last 1:18 to register a 58-49 victory.
“We just wanted to take good shots,” Great Bend head coach Chris Battin said. “That’s really all it boils down to. They did a good job early defending us and there late in the fourth quarter we found ourselves open a couple times and knocked them down.
“We played well at times, but they answered every run we had and they did a great job of that. Defensively, they were pretty good tonight.”
In the Western Athletic Conference and regular-season finale for both teams, the second-place Panthers finished the conference season at 4-4, while Hays finished 3-5.
The series with Hays is now tied at 1-1. Greg Hildebrand’s tiebreaking 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Panthers a 41-38 victory on Jan. 11.
The rubber game is set for Thursday night at 7 at Hays in a first-round Class 5A sub-state championship game. The winning team clinches a state tournament berth in Topeka while advancing to a championship game at sub-state host Salina South on Saturday night at 7.
Entering the game, Great Bend needed a victory over Hays and a Salina South loss on Friday night, which occurred in Derby’s 66-65 win over South on Friday night, to force a coin flip for a No. 3 seed and a home berth.
But the Indians made that scenario dissolve as Great Bend dipped to the No. 5 seed with the loss, as it has to make a second trip in six days to Hays.
“They did a wonderful job,” Battin said of Hays’ play on Friday night. “They hung on to the basketball, took care of it and knocked down big shots when they needed to.”
“We’ve just got to regroup and be ready to go on Thursday. That’s the bottom line.”
Coming off a triple-overtime victory over Liberal on the road eight days ago and a romp at Hoisington on Tuesday night, where the Panthers had eight three-point hits, they appeared to be hitting their stride.
But on Friday night, it was Hays that was hitting on all cylinders. Guards Seth Tophoj and Chris Schultz scored 15 and 14 points to lead the Indians on the perimeter. Inside the paint, 6-foot-5 Zack Gaughan, plagued by early foul trouble but never fouling out, also added 14 points for Hays.
Hildebrand, a senior post player, led GBHS with 10 points, sophomore guard Matt Marshall added nine points and senior swingman Dakota Ellis scored eight.
Great Bend led only once, 10-9 after Hildebrand’s 3-pointer with 3:03 left in the first quarter.
But Schultz answered with a basket and Gaughan converted a three-point play for a 14-10 lead near the two-minute mark.
Leading 16-12 entering the second period, Tophoj’s 3-pointer started a 7-2 Hays run for a 23-14 lead with 5:07 left in the half, a lead it maintained the remainder of the half to go up 34-25 at the break.
The Panthers’ Cameron Casey popped in a jumper from near the foul line and Hildebrand scored on a power move underneath the basket off an inbounds play to make it 36-29 out of the gate in the third quarter.
But Tophoj swished another trey and Gaughan made the first of two free throws to push the margin up to 40-29, a lead the Tribe extended to 46-32 after three quarters.
GBHS went on a 7-3 run at the outset of the fourth quarter, getting a 3-pointer from junior shooting guard Jace Bowman, a jumper from the right wing by Marshall and capped by a pair of free throws from senior point guard Will Gray with 3:55 remaining, closing to 49-39.
After Ellis made the second of two free throws and Gaughan scored inside on the other end, the Panthers started lighting up the Hays gym from downtown. Ellis hit a 3 at the 1:42 mark, Gray dropped in one at the 1:02 mark and Hildebrand added his second trey of the game with 48.8 seconds left to slice the gap down to 55-49.
All the while, Hays, which shot a blistering 19 for 24 on free throws on the night, kept answering at the line.
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Western Athletic Conference
Hays 58, Great Bend 49
GREAT BEND (4-4, 11-9)
Matt Marshall 4 0-0 9, Jace Bowman 3 0-0 7, Sam Hafner 0 0-0 0, Greg Hildebrand 3 2-4 10, Cameron Casey 3 0-0 6, Jeff Pike 0 0-0 0, Will Gray 2 2-2 7, Dakota Ellis 3 1-2 8, Roderick Frise 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 5-8 49.
HAYS (3-5, 11-9)
Seth Tophoj 5 3-5 15, Chris Schultz 4 4-4 14, Trey Herman 2 0-2 5, Adam Deterding 0 0-0 0, Charles Howell 0 4-4 4, Trey Lynd 1 4-4 6, Zack Gaughan 5 4-5 14. Totals 17 19-24 58.
Great Bend 12 13 7 17 — 49
Hays 16 18 12 12 — 58
Three-point goals — Great Bend 6 (Hildebrand 2, Ellis, Gray, Bowman, Marshall); Hays 5 (Tophoj 2, Schultz 2, Herman).