Winning four of their first five games, the Concordia Panthers were on a roll heading into the holiday break.
Concordia had ended a long losing streak to Abilene in the final game before break, and had climbed to number eight in the Class 4A-II rankings.
In the first game following the lengthy layoff, the Clay Center Tigers slowed the Panthers' roll with a 47-35 North Central Kansas League setback Tuesday night in the Concordia Junior-Senior High School gymnasium.
Clay Center came in at 1-4 overall and 0-2 in league play, but used three-point shooting to build a 26-19 halftime lead, and an 8-0 run in the third quarter made sure Concordia couldn't catch up.
"We didn't look like we had much confidence in running our plays, and we didn't bring much energy to the game," Concordia coach Michael Wahlmeier said, "We are not good enough. We have to bring it every night and there is not a bad team in the league."
The loss drops Concordia to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the NCKL.
The Panthers scored first on a layup by Tristen Leiszler, but the Tigers knocked down three consecutive threes to go up 9-2, and would not trail again in the game.
Concordia got a short jumper by Megan James and five straight points by Leiszler to pull even at 9-9.
A basket by Macey Dieckmann and threes by Lorren Williams and Mack Edmundson put the Tigers on top to stay, 17-9.
"It seemed like they hit everything in that first quarter, and they did," Wahlmeier said.
Clay Center scored the first three points of the second period to up the lead to 20-9.
James, the Panthers' second-leading scorer behind Leiszler, picked up a second foul early in the second half, and had to go to the bench.
With James on the bench, the Panthers managed just one field goal in the second period, but did hit 8 of 10 free throws.
Clay Center grabbed its biggest lead of 25-13 when Allie Wright made a three with 2:38 left in the half.
Concordia was able to outscore the Tigers 6-1 over the final 1:39 to make it a 26-19 game.
Two free throws by Jordan Eshbaugh 1:27 into the second half got the Panthers within five points, 26-21.
The Panthers would go better than six minutes without scoring, and an 8-0 spurt gave the Tigers a 35-21 advantage.
"We have got to pick up our intensity defensively. We were are not getting many stops at all," Wahlmeier said.
James scored the final two points of the third quarter, and the first two of the fourth, and it was a 35-25 game.
Concordia would get as close as nine points, 37-28.
The Panthers, trailing 39-28, started fouling with just under three minutes to play.
Clay Center missed six of nine free throws during one stretch, but Concordia couldn't capitalize.
Leiszler, despite being hounded in a box-and-one defense most of the night, led all scorers with 16 points.
James scored all 11 of her points in the second half.
No other Panther scored more than four points.
Macy Franson paced Clay Center with 13 points.
Diekmann scored 10 points for the Tigers.
The Panthers now go the road to play Wamego, the number team in Class 4A, on Friday night.
"This was one that was tough to give away, because we have Wamego on Friday," Wahlmaier said.
CLAY CENTER (47)
Williams 3-0-1 8, Franson 4-3-3 13, Wright 1-1-0 4, Jones 1-1-1 4, Bohnenblast 0-0-2 0, Edmundson 20-3 6, Ebert 1-0-4 2, Dieckmann 3-4-4 10. Totals: 16-10-18 47.
Gumm 0-2-2 2, Lambert 1-0-3 2, Adams 0-0-3 0, Eshbaugh 0-2-5 2, Boley 0-2-2 2, Leiszler 5-4-3 16, James 5-1-4 11. Totals: 11-11-22 35.