By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle had a worried look in his face following his team's impressive road victory Wednesday at Cloud County.
"We still have to play Pratt, and they're still averaging like a 100 points per game," he said. "That's pretty scary."
On Saturday, those fears were recognized as the Broncbusters got a first-hand look at just how lethal the Beavers are offensively.
Sophomore guard A.J. Banks tallied 18 points including the game-winning layup with 1.9 seconds to play, and Pratt stunned Garden City 93-92 at Conestoga Arena.
"I don't care what the numbers show, that's a team that can score a ton of points," Trenkle said after the game. "And we tried to play their game."
Pratt shot 46 percent from the field and nailed 13-of-26 from long distance. It was the fourth time this season that Garden City gave up double-digit 3-pointers in a game.
"We didn't play defense at all tonight," Trenkle said. "It's as simple as that. They had guys wide open all night long."
The Beavers shooting display should not have been a surprise to anyone as the Beavers entered play Saturday as the best perimeter team in the Jayhawk conference. All this game did was prove that it was not an anomaly.
The Beavers drilled five of their six, first-half triples in the game's first 10 minutes, helping erase an early deficit. Then Wilson drained his second 3-pointer of the opening period with 9:50 to play, igniting a 13-3 run that put Pratt (6-7, 3-6) up 35-27.
"You've got a guy like Sean Flynn that's battling for his job right now," Trenkle said. "He's proven that he can coach in this league."
Flynn took over for Max Good, who resigned back on Nov. 14. Up until Saturday, his team had lost four out of the first six games under his direction.
"His guys played well for him tonight," Trenkle added.
With Garden City struggling on offense, Pierre Johnson carried the load, scoring 10 of his team-high 24 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer with 6:22 left that cut the Pratt lead to four, 34-30. Then, trailing by six, it was Kendale Hampton off the bench, knocking one down from distance with 30 seconds remaining, and Garden City was down three at the half, 44-41.
"I kept telling my coaches that we don't deserve to win this game," Trenkle said. "And we really didn't."
The Broncbusters' struggles guarding the 3, were well documented coming in. They came in second to last in the conference in opponents' 3-point percentage.
"Until we sure that up, we are going to struggle," Trenkle said. "But these guys know what they had to do."
One of those defensive lapses came with 8:07 remaining, when Russhard Cruickshank was late on a close out, and fouled Wilson shooting a triple. The sophomore guard hit 1-of-3 at the line, but the Beavers had their biggest lead of the second half 75-67.
"We just have to be better," Trenkle said. "We will be better from this. But I had guys worried about how they were getting home for Christmas. Their minds were somewhere else tonight."
As he did in the first half, Johnson kept his team afloat, hitting a driving layup, which was followed up by Cruickshank's 3-pointer and a Jamir Thomas layup that pulled Garden City to within one, 75-74 with 7:21 to play. But every time the Broncbusters inched closer, Pratt had an answer on the other end.
Clinton Bentley's jumper and Wilson's two free three throws stymied the Broncbusters first surge late in the second half. Then, when Cruickshank hit a triple to tie the contest at 81 with 4:27 left, the Beavers responded with five straight points: Devin Marsh's 3-pointer and James Brooks' two free throws that pushed the Beavers' advantage to 88-83.
"Give them credit, they hit a bunch of shots tonight," Trenkle said. "But our guys knew the scouting report, we just didn't do what we were supposed to."
The Broncbusters kept coming, and Cruickshank's fifth triple of the game coupled with Octavious Meadows' stick back, knotted the contest at 88 with 1:12 to play. But as they did all night long, Pratt had an answer, and Banks trey from the top of the key put Pratt up three.
"We just didn't have an answer," Trenkle said. "Yet, we still had a chance to win the game."
That was made possible thanks to Thomas, whose three-point play with 21 seconds to go, gave Garden City a 92-91 advantage; their first lead since the 10-minute mark of the first half.
"All we needed was one stop," Trenkle explained.
And it appeared they had it when Hampton swatted Brooks' shot in the final seconds. Instead, the ball bounced right to Banks, who sprinted unimpeded to the rim for an uncontested layup that put Pratt up one.
"I have three guys sprinting back on offense when we don't need to score," Trenkle said. "We get a stop, and we win the game."
Garden City still had one more chance, but after an inbounds pass was deflected out of bounds, Thomas's half-court heave sailed wide left, giving Pratt back-to-back victories at Conestoga Arena.
Asem Johnson scored 16 points for the Beavers, who won back-to-back games for just the second time this season. Marsh added 11 off the bench, and Bentley had 10.
(Pierre) Johnson was sensational again for Garden City, scoring 24 points, dishing out 11 assists and pulling down six rebounds. Thomas had 22, and Cruickshank added 17.
Next up: Garden City at Coffeyville-Wednesday, Jan. 3-7:30 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app