By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-If there was one lesson that the Broncbusters learned after their 41-point loss to Hutchinson on Saturday it was this: good defense cures all evil.
Whatever bad taste was leftover 72 hours later, Garden City rid with one of their best defensive performances of the season.
Ben Howze recorded his fifth double-double of the year with 21 points and 11 boards, the Broncbusters forced 18 turnovers and held Cloud County to their third worst shooting performance of the season in an 87-86 win Wednesday night at the Perryman Athletic Complex.
"This was a good win," Head Coach Brady Trenkle said afterwards. "That team was 4-0 on the road coming in, and we knew it would be a challenge. Our guys responded."
And it looked like the game would be a runaway midway through the second half.
Garden City (9-3, 5-3) built a 65-50 advantage following Victor Dukes layup with 8:08 to go. But the Thunderbirds, who had won four straight games entering Wednesday night's showdown, chiseled their way back into the contest.
Aamahne Santos scored 19 of his game-best 24 points in the second half, including a sensational driving layup with 22 seconds left that capped a 35-17 run and pulled Cloud County to within three 85-82.
"Cloud is a good team, so we weren't surprised that they made a run," Trenkle said.
The Thunderbirds had a chance to tie the game after James McNeal missed two free throws. But Deon Lyle misfired on back-to-back 3-pointers. After the ball was knocked out by Garden City, Lavar Harewood was fouled on the inbounds pass. The sophomore transfer from the University of Maine, missed the first free throw. With no timeouts and four seconds to play, conventional wisdom would have told him to miss the second one. Instead he splashed it home, and McNeal canned two freebies on the other end, rendering Santos's 30-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer meaningless.
"I thought our defense was much better tonight," Trenkle said. "It's hard to explain what happened to us on Saturday at Hutch. But one thing I know is that we didn't defend. That wasn't a problem tonight."
That defense stymied a Thunderbird squad who, at 10-1, was off to their best start since 2006. Cloud County missed on five of their first six shots from the floor to begin the game. That enabled Garden City to jump out to a 15-6 edge midway through the opening period.
As they did in the second half, Cloud County roared back thanks to Harewood, who scored the Thunderbirds final eight points of the first half to cut the Broncbuster lead to 35-32. But Dukes was fouled with one second on the clock, and drained both free throws for a 37-32 halftime advantage.
"My guys were in the locker room saying to each other: if we listen to the coaches and follow their lead, this is what happens," Trenkle explained. "They're hungry."
Naradain James scored 21 points for Garden City, which included two big jumpers in the final three minutes that helped seal the deal. Ray's circus layup with 30 seconds to go put the Broncbusters up 85-80 and finished off an 11-point night where he shot 5-of-8 from the field.
Harewood netted 11 points for the Thunderbirds off the bench. Andrew Ballock and Jordan McNelly each added 10.
Notes: Garden City won the game despite Josh Fleming going 1-for-9 from the field…The Broncbusters were just 1-of-10 from beyond the arc; tying a season low (1-of-6 vs. Cowley)
Next up: Garden City at Pratt-Saturday, December 10-4 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and mobile app: KWKR