By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle believed he had put together a game plan to slowdown one of biggest offensive juggernauts in the country.
And for most of the night, Trenke's tactical strategy hampered the high-flying Blue Dragons. But no matter the defense, Hutchinson sophomore guard Samajae Haynes-Jones had the answer down the stretch.
Jones finished with 18 points including a dagger jumper with 30 seconds remaining, as No. 4 Hutchinson took down Garden City 85-79 on Wednesday night at the Perryman Athletic Complex.
"Both teams played so hard," Trenkle said afterwards. "Steve (Eck) has a very good team. Their effort was fantastic. So was ours, but in the end, they made plays that we didn't."
The staggering stat of the night was this: Garden City (15-9, 1-9) was outrebounded by 17 and gave up 18 offensive boards, yet five times in the final five minutes, the Broncbusters pulled to within four.
"We just couldn't get over the hump tonight," Trenkle said. "Victor (Dukes) was not close to 100 percent, and when a guy is averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds, it's hard to reproduce that."
Jefkins Agyeman-Budu more than picked up the slack for Trenkle's squad.
The sophomore-transfer from Grambling State helped keep Garden City afloat in the second half, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points over the final 20 minutes. His bucket with 15:25 to play ignited a 10-0 run that erased the Blue Dragons eight point advantage. Then Josh Fleming nailed a 3-pointer to give the Broncbusters a 52-50 lead with 11:30 to go.
"I don't look at the rebounds as the reason we lost this game," Trenkle said. "I look at free throws. We missed 10 of them and lost by six."
As quickly as Garden City stormed back to take the lead is how fast it vanished. Kai Mitchell hit a floater in the lane, Devonte Bandoo knocked down a jumper from the foul line, Shakur Juistion grabbed one of his 19 rebounds to stick back a Blue Dragon miss and J.J. Rhymes had a three-point play. All said-Hutchinson (23-1, 19-1) answered the bell with 11 unanswered points to take a 61-52 advantage with 9:08 remaining.
"There were points in the second half that I didn't know what my guys were doing," Trenkle said. "We have had a tendency to start very slowly. And that stretch dampened our spirits a bit. But I told them to not keep their heads down."
Garden City kept coming, but every time they cut the lead to four, the Blue Dragons had a resounding answer. And Jones saved his best response for the final minute.
Trailing 79-75, Eck put the ball in Jones' hands. The sophomore, who has already signed with Wichita State, went one-on-one with Portland-State commit Aaron Ray. With the shot clock ticking down, Jones cut from the left wing to the foul line, spun back to his left and drilled a fallaway jumper over Ray's outstretched arms to push the lead to six.
"He's (Jones) so good with the ball in his hands," Trenkle said. "Aaron played great defense on him. He just made a great shot."
Ray's offense was pretty good too, scoring 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting in a losing effort. Naradain James recorded his fifth double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Broncbusters, who lost their eighth straight game to the Blue Dragons. Fleming added 10 points but missed 13 of his 16 shots.
Juiston paced Hutchinson with 21 points and 19 boards; his 15th double-double of the season. Rhymes recorded his first double-double with 17 points and 10 boards while Bandoo knocked in 15.
"We have to move onto Cloud," Trenkle said. "There's no time to feel sorry for ourselves. That's the way this league is set up. We have to go into another tough environment on Saturday."
In the first half on Wednesday, Trenkle's team did their best to assure that the 41-point drubbing at the hands of the Blue Dragons back on Dec. 3 was nothing more than an aberration. After Hutchinson built a 14-10 lead 6:30 into the contest, the Broncbusters responded with seven straight points, which was capped by Troy Stancil's lone 3-pointer of the night that gave Garden City their largest edge 17-14.
That advantage did not last long. Nikola Scekic hit a hook shot in the paint and Rhymes hit a midrange jumper go put the Blue Dragons back in front 18-17. It was one of 12 lead changes in the first half.
Garden City had a golden chance to become just the second team all season long to take a lead into the half against Hutchinson, but with the game tied at 38 in the final seconds of the opening period, Fleming lost the ball at the top of the key.
Next up: Garden City at Cloud County-Saturday, Feb. 11-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app