By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Tired and visibly frustrated following Wednesday night's game, Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle tried his best to explain where his team's season began to slip.
"There are so many different things that have happened," he said. "One guy hurts his ankle; the other one can't hit a shot. It's a combination of things."
All of those variables were on full display on Wednesday night.
Marc Moon recorded his seventh double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds, Travon Bunch scored 13, and Neosho County handed Garden City its sixth straight loss with a 69-60 victory at Conestoga Arena.
"I don't know what to say," Trenkle said. "I've never been this frustrated before. I've never experienced this."
As the head man, Trenkle had never lost six in a row. But as Rand Chappell's assistant in 2012-2013, the Broncbuster men dropped eight straight games.
"These guys aren't trying to lose games," he added. "But it goes back to them forgetting how to win."
If you could encapsulate how well Garden City (15-13, 11-13) has played in the first half of games recently, there would be no talk of a losing streak. It's been the second half that's been the killer.
Leading by as many as seven four minutes into the final period, Trenkle and his staff could only watch as the momentum pendulum swung mightily towards a Panther team that, entering play Wednesday night, had won 20 fewer games than the one that appeared in their first national tournament last March. Neosho County (11-17, 8-16) hit the Broncbusters like a freight train, scoring 12 unanswered points, spearheaded by Lewis Freeman's rainbow 3-pointer from the left wing that pushed the Panthers in front 48-47 with 12:30 to go in the game.
During that same stretch, Garden City went scoreless for more than five minutes, allowing the Panthers to take control.
"Every game, we fall apart in the second half," Trenkle said. "I can't explain it. We've got guys jacking up 3's again. They don't want to listen to us."
Neosho stretched the lead to six before Garden City, more specifically Fleming, finally had an answer.
The sophomore guard canned back-to-back treys, including a 3-pointer off a screen by Naradain James, and the Broncbusters regained the advantage 59-58 with 6:09 to go. Fleming scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half.
"Josh played well when we needed him to," Trenkle said. "I just have to find five guys who care."
Gilbert split a pair of free throws with 4:03 left, and Garden City had a two-point lead. Incredibly, that was the last time the Broncbusters scored.
Matthew Donart's jumper tied the game at 60 before Neosho County surged in front for good when Daran Lee hit a layup with 2:21 to go. In total, the Panthers outscored Garden City 11-0 over the final four minutes.
"We were averaging 92 points per game at home," Trenkle said. "We've scored 60 the last two games. Our defense played well, but our offense obviously did not.
Aaron Ray had his best game of the season for Garden City in a losing effort, pouring in 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Ben Howze added eight points and 10 rebounds, and James added seven and nine boards.
Austin Downing netted 10 for Neosho, who recorded their first three-game winning streak since November. Freeman added eight points on 3-of-4 from the floor.
"We won't win another game until these guys start listening," Trenkle said. "Everything has to change."
After trailing for the first six minutes of the contest, Garden City fought back and eventually grabbed their first lead when Troy Stancil nailed a 3-pointer and Ray split two free throws. They pushed that cushion to six twice in the first half but could never pull away. In fact, Neosho went through a stretch where they had just one field goal over a nine-minute span. But Jeremy Coombs' team stayed close and trailed by only five at the break.
Next up: Garden City at Colby-Saturday, Feb. 24-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app