The Salina Central boys basketball team showed growth all throughout the season.
More steps were taken by the Mustangs in the Class 5A sub-state opener at Great Bend.
Unfortunately, it was not enough.
Central erased a 12-point deficit, but missed two potential game-winning shots as the Great Bend Panthers survived, claiming a 63-60 overtime victory Tuesday night. Salina Central ended the 2019-20 campaign at 9-12, snapping a state tournament streak of four years.
With the loss of Central senior Jevon Burnett, the Mustangs were concerned about rebounding. The Mustangs contained the Panthers, staying close at 15-14 after the opening period.
Great Bend (17-4) pounded the glass in the ensuing quarter. The Panthers used offensive rebounding to spark a 12-5 spurt, breaking a 20-all tie. Central junior Reed McHenry pulled the Mustangs to within four, 32-28, draining a last-second trey before halftime.
The Panthers appeared to get stronger following intermission. Central didn’t help the cause, suffering from numerous unforced turnovers. Great Bend used that recipe to generate a 12-2 run, padding Great Bend’s lead to 12.
Salina Central refused to go away. The Mustangs answered with a 13-1 burst, capped off by a three from senior Aaron Watson, knotting up the score at 48-48 with four minutes to play. Sophomore Nolan Puckett put the Mustangs on top for just the third time all game with a corner three.
Great Bend turned to the hot hand of senior Alex Olivas, who drained his six trey of the contest that ended up being the lone bucket made by Panthers in the final frame. Following the bucket, Puckett drilled two free throws only to be matched by Great Bend senior Ray Kuhlman, locking up the score at 53-all with 1:44 to go in the contest.
With 10 seconds remaining, Central had a chance for the win, but a trey from senior Christian Tedlock was short right before the buzzer sounded.
Great Bend gave up a field goal to open overtime before getting threes from leading scorer Alex Schremmer and Peyton Duvall. Trailing by four with a minute to go, the Mustangs appeared to be fading. That’s when sophomore Logan Losey nailed a left corner triple with 26 seconds on the clock.
Salina Central turned up the pressure, forcing a 10-second count. Junior Caden Kickhaefer, who poured in a career-high 19 points, dribbled below the right elbow and launched a jumper that hit the back of the rim. Great Bend secured the rebound with a second left, made a pair of free throws and stole a baseball pass to get the win.
In addition to Kickhaefer’s performance, Puckett finished with a career-high 15 points.