They don’t know a lot about their next opponent and have little time to prepare. But when the Salina Central boys basketball team is playing its game, the Mustangs like their chances.
Central opened the 40th annual Salina Invitational Tournament with a 69-23 victory Thursday night over Concordia at the Central High gym. The defending champs, sluggish through the game’s first 12 minutes, picked it up over the next 12 and put the result well out of reach.
Now the Mustangs (7-2) face Wichita South in today’s 3 p.m. championship semifinal at Kansas Wesleyan University’s Mabee Arena. The Titans (4-7) made an impressive debut Thursday, winning their first-ever SIT contest 61-49 over Liberal.
“We know they are going to have a press kind of like Derby’s havoc press,” senior guard Harper Williams said of Wichita South. “We think that’s good for us because it’s going to make us play a lot faster and that’s when we are at our best, in transition and getting up and down the floor.”
“We told our players it’s a short turnaround,” said Central coach Doug Finch, whose team will have less than 18 hours between games. “We wrote in there Texas team camp scout. When you go to a team camp you have short turnarounds and you matchup and you play.
“We don’t know a lot about anybody in this thing but we know a lot about us. So we’re going to try and play our game.”
That was a game plan that worked well against Concordia, at least once the Mustangs were able to get the game at their pace. Central led 9-0 in the game’s first three minutes, but the lead was only 15-9 midway through the second quarter when Finch used a timeout to get his team focused.
“We wanted to press and the issue was our press is not effective if we are not scoring,” Finch said. “We challenged them out of that timeout and wanted to attack the rim, get a bucket and get the press set.
“That got us moving and when we are moving in high gear, we are really good.”
Central came out of the timeout and got the ball inside to 6-3 sophomore Caden Kickhaefer, whose basket in the low post got the Mustangs going.
A driving basket from Brogen Richardson and two free throws from Mark Grammer were followed by five consecutive points from Williams. A 3-pointer from David Grammer and Mark Grammer’s transition basket off a turnover made it 31-11 at halftime.
“A lot of teams that have scouted us want to run us off the 3-point line because we shoot it so well,” Williams said. “Our guards are focused on driving to the basket and also a drive kick to the corners because that’s normally open.
“Kickhaefer played really good tonight because he can step out and shoot it, and they didn’t really front him too much so we could feed him the ball pretty easily.”
The third quarter turned into a 3-point shooting drill for the Mustangs, who made seven of their first eight attempts behind the arc in the quarter. That included three for David Grammer and two for Williams, who was named the SIT Most Valuable Player a year ago.
With a continuous running clock in the fourth quarter, Central did not play any of its starters in the final period.
Williams finished with a season-high 17 points and David Grammer had 15. The Mustangs matched their season high with 13 3-pointers in the game.
Senior Dylan Reed had seven points and five rebounds to lead Concordia. The Panthers will play Liberal in today’s 3 p.m. consolation semifinal at South High School.