By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-The atmosphere inside Conestoga Arena on Saturday night felt more like a tournament game in March rather than just the seventh conference game of the season.
And if this was a sign of things to come, don't be surprised to see these two teams facing each other again come postseason time.
J.J. Rhymes scored 15 points, James Rojas chipped in 12 in 20 minutes off the bench, and Hutchinson topped Garden City 68-64 in one of the best games of the season so far.
"We just weren't hitting shots tonight," Trenkle said. "You can't go 5-for-20 from 3 and expect to beat a team like that."
Garden City shot a season-low 39 percent from the field and shot 17 less free throws than the Blue Dragons. Yet the game was still there for the taking after Pierre Johnson's layup tied it at 64 with 1:20 left. Following a missed jumper by Rhymes, the Broncbusters had a chance to take the lead. But Kendale Hampton's 3-pointer from the right wing rattled out. On Hutchinson's next possession, Devonte Bandoo splashed home a 15 footer to give the Blue Dragons the lead for good.
Garden City had one more chance, but Theo Holloway misfired on a 3-pointer in the final five seconds.
"We still had a chance to win that game," Trenkle said. "This was a great effort by my guys."
"This Hutchinson team plays extremely hard," Trenkle said. "There's not one guy on their team that does not play hard."
Hutchinson won the game despite shooting 38 percent from the floor. But they made up for it by sinking 21 free throws while their bench outscored Garden City's 32-6.
"There's not many weak links on that team," Trenkle said. "And we knew that coming in."
Garden City went toe-to-toe with the defending national champs in the first half. Jeff Otchere's posterizing dunk and Jamir Thomas's slam off a Blue Dragon turnover gave the Broncbusters an 11-6 advantage five minutes into the game. It was their largest lead of the night.
"I told my guys in the locker room that I'm extremely proud of them," Trenkle said. "They fought. I mean they were down 10, and they came back to tie it."
Hutchinson answered the bell by scoring 10 of the next 13 points to grab the edge, 16-14. That advantage swelled to as many as eight in the first half before Garden City cut it to six at the break.
Russhard Cruickshank opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Holloway knocked down a 17-foot jump shot to make it a one-point contest. Later, Trenkle's bunch surged in front on the heels of a 9-4 spurt, capped by Cruickshank's second triple of the period to put Garden City up 42-41 with 13:20 remaining in the game. But the lead lasted just 17 seconds. Rhymes tied it with a free throw before hitting a driving layup that made it 44-42. Rojas split a pair at the line, and Kai Mitchell connected from the outside to give the Blue Dragons a five-point cushion. They eventually built that lead to 10, 55-45 with 7:14 left.
"These guys fought every step of the way, and we will get better from this," Trenkle said. "I mean Bandoo hit a big shot at the end of the game. I told our guys if he missed that we were going for the win. I didn't want to play for overtime against that team."
Despite trailing by seven with 2:41 on the clock, Garden City never wilted. Holloway hit a 3-pointer, Thomas converted a layup before Johnson tied the game with a 2-footer.
Thomas scored a season-high 27 points and pulled down 14 rebounds for the Broncbusters, who saw their three-game winning streak snapped. Johnson added 14, Holloway had nine and Cruickshank chipped in eight points and four assists.
Next up: Garden City at Cloud County-Wednesday, Dec. 6-8 p.m. on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app