The McPherson High boys were in danger here Friday night in their basketball season opener.
The Bullpups had turned a comfy 10-point halftime lead into a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter and Salina Central was showing no signs of letting it get away.
But it did.
The Bullpups charged down the stretch as they outscored the Mustangs 14-5 over the final five minutes for a hard-earned 61-58 victory that wasn't determined until Rashun Allen missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer, at which point the electric Roundhouse crowd exhaled.
The Bullpups made 7 of 8 free throws in the final three minutes, including a pair by Kyler Kinnamon with 6.4 seconds left that pushed the lead to three.
"We had a number of guys who did make plays at the end," MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said. "We made free throws down the stretch, we did a good job with that. That was a pretty good high school game. Salina Central has got a very nice team."
The Bullpups literally blew the top off the Roundhouse at the start, race horsing their way to a 16-3 lead. The Mustangs, though, stroked three 3-pointers in a row and drew within 18-14 by the end of the quarter.
MHS was sharp in the second quarter, finishing on a 12-3 lick for a seemingly safe 37-27 lead at recess.
But the Bullpups were asleep at the switch in the third quarter, which Central dominated to catch, and then pass, MHS. It was 48-45 going into the final period.
When the Mustangs look back to see how it slipped away, it will be some ill-advised 3-point attempts that was their undoing. They scored just two baskets in the final 3:12.
MHS was up 59-58 when the Mustangs came up with a steal, only to turn it back over with 9 seconds left. Kyler Kinnamon then was fouled and calmly made both free throws, setting the stage for the wild ending.
Central stayed afloat behind the inside play of Jordan McNelly, who took advantage of the new officiating rules to make 16 of 21 free throws on his way to 24 points, as well as grabbing 14 rebounds.
"We had a lot of trouble handling Jordan McNelly, we just did," Kurt Kinnamon said. "If the offensive player is allowed to be that physical once he gets it, then it's almost impossible to guard. I don't know what you do in that situation."
It was mixed bag for Kyler Kinnamon, who led MHS with 19 points and eight assists, but also committed an uncharacteristic seven turnovers. Twins Ryan and Peter Horton furnished 11 points apiece. MHS, after making 13 of 23 shots in the first half, cooled to 7 of 21 after the break, but did make 15 of 20 free throws for the game, but was outrebounded, 32-28.
"Like I said, that's two good teams," Kurt Kinnamon said. "Like I told the guys at halftime, games like this make you better. Beating somebody by 40 doesn't make you better."
The MHS JVs got off to a rocky start as the Mustangs took a 50-33 decision. Marcus McDaniel led the Bullpups with 12 points.
The Bullpup freshmen were sharp with a 64-42 verdict behind 19 points by Casen Hoover and 10 by Chris Kirchner.
MHS will be idle Tuesday and its next action is Friday at Class 6A Washburn Rural.
MHS (61) — Pyle 2-9, 2-3, 7; Kinnamon 5-9, 8-9, 19; R. Horton 4-7, 3-4, 11; P. Horton 4-7, 1-2, 11; Nutter 2-6, 1-2, 6; Sewell 2-4, 0-0, 4; Gabel 1-2, 0-0, 3.
Salina Central (58) — Kuhn 4-14, 0-0, 10; Neuschafer 3-4, 0-0, 9; Allen 3-7, 0-0, 6; Roble 1-1, 2-4, 4; Hines 2-8, 0-0, 5; Castelli 0-1, 0-0, 0; Gardner 0-2, 0-0, 0; McNelly 4-9, 16-21, 24. Totals — 17-46, 18-25, 58. 3-pointers — Neuschafer 3, Kuhn 2, Hines 1.
MHS JV (33) — McDaniel 12, Smith 4, Malm 2, Hoover 3, Wine 6, Barrett 2, Spaich 4.
MHS 9th (64) — Lackey 7, Kirchner 10, Leaf 5, Malm 9, Hoover 19, Arbuckle 2, Gerbrandt 4, Polosek 2, Spaich 6.