By Mike Pilosof
Independence, KS-Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle knows a thing or two about bad luck.
Last year, he lost both Jamar Gilbert and Diontae Jones to injuries heading into the postseason. It was a big-time blow as the Broncbusters were eliminated by Hutchinson in the Region VI quarterfinals.
On Wednesday during pregame warmups, Trenkle's most vital piece Victor Dukes rolled his ankle after tripping over a basketball, while reserve Jaymond Kelly was so sick with the flu that team trainers placed him in a quarantine.
"When Victor did that I thought to myself: here we go again," Trenkle said. "Then Jaymond was having issues with his stomach."
Fortunately for Trenkle, his shorthanded Broncbusters were at the top of their game, even if their health was from it.
Naradain James led four Garden City players in double figures with 18 points and seven rebounds, and the Broncbusters fought off Independence for a 79-74 win at Pirates Fieldhouse. It was the first time the brown and gold recorded consecutive victories since Dec. 10.
"This was a really good road win," Trenkle explained. "Independence has beaten a lot of good teams this year. We knew it would be a battle."
After falling down 4-0 in the first minute, Garden City roared back. James steal and jam followed by Troy Stancil's 3-pointer and Gilbert's elbow jumper gave the Broncbusters a 22-13 advantage with 10:00 to go in the first half.
Then the sleeping giant finally awoke.
"Every time we build a lead I know the other team is going to make a run," Trenkle said. "That's just basketball."
DaJon Streater scored eight of his team-best 28 points over the final six minutes of the half, igniting a 21-6 surge that put the Pirates in front 34-28 at the 2:40 mark.
"DaJon did not play against us the last time," Trenkle said. "But we knew he was a big-time scorer. They just kept coming at us."
Garden City (15-7, 11-7) righted the ship thanks to Gilbert and Josh Fleming, who combined to hit three straight treys as the Broncbusters outscored the Pirates 11-3 over the final 2:20 of the period to take a 39-37 lead into the intermission.
"We responded when we fell down," Trenkle said. "This is a talented group, and when we are shorthanded, other guys have to step up. They did that tonight."
It appeared the Broncbusters were well on their way to making this one a laugher in the second half. Aaron Ray knocked down a jumper and hit two free throws; Ben Howze added a twisting layup and Fleming a three-point play that gave Garden City a 64-49 lead with 9:46 remaining in the game.
"Credit Indy," Trenkle said. "They hit shots and made us work down the stretch. This is not an easy place to play."
Backup shooting guard DeAnthony McCallum led the Independence (10-11, 7-11) resurgence, scoring eight of his team's next nine points to cut the deficit to 10.
The Pirates kept coming, while the Broncbusters went silent.
Garden City scored just one bucket over a four-minute stretch while Streater nailed a 3-pointer and split a pair of free throws before Tyrone Riley added a layup off an offensive rebound that made it a one-point contest with 2:23 left.
"There was no way this was going to be an easy win," Trenkle said. "I told Tony (Turner) that every team in this league is good, including his."
But as they did all night, Garden City countered, this time with a knockout blow.
With the shot clock ticking down, James buried a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key to stretch the lead to four. Then, in the waning seconds, it was Gilbert, floating to the corner and draining a triple with eight seconds to play, locking up the Broncbusters fourth road win of the season.
"People think I'm just talking when I say that all these teams are good," Trenkle said. "I mean look at Colby, they beat Dodge tonight. Pratt went into Dodge and won earlier this year. That's how it is every night."
Gilbert, filling in for the injured Dukes, scored 12 points and pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds for Garden City. Jefkins Agyeman-Budu added 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
McCallum scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for Independence, who lost for the second time in their last three games.
Next up: Garden City at Dodge City-Saturday, Feb. 4-3 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app