By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Broncbuster Coach Brady Trenkle joked on Wednesday that his team never makes things easy for themselves.
"It's something we have to figure out, but I guess it works," he said with a huge smile.
Despite sweating out another nail biter, the Broncbusters survived, even if some of Trenkle's glistening golden locks turned gray in the process.
"Somedays I think we have it figured out, and then others, not so much," Trenkle said. "But these guys kept fighting, and I love that."
The Broncbusters free-flowing offense was in fine form early in the second half. Elvis Harvey powered home a two-handed slam, and Garden City (13-5, 9-5) had a 47-30 cushion with 15:35 to play in the game.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable if we were up by 40," Trenkle said. "And that's not because of my team; that's because of this league. It's a war every night."
Butler (8-9, 5-9), which won their previous two games over Colby and Neosho in come-from-behind fashion, nearly pulled another rabbit out of their hat on Wednesday. And it started with defense.
The Grizzlies limited the Broncbusters to just 22 points over the final 15 minutes, while soaring back in the game on the heels of a 35-21 run that had Butler smelling blood. Russell Smith connected on two long balls, Kalon McSpadden canned a triple, and the Grizzlies sliced the deficit to three, 68-65 with 32 seconds remaining.
"Russell Smith is a good player," Trenkle said. "You don't go to a Division-I program if you're not good."
Smith, who transferred from Oral Roberts, eventually fouled out of the game, but not before scoring 16 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
"I saw it in both teams—they're exhausted; we're exhausted; this thing is a grind," Trenkle said. "I mean, we still have 12 conference games to go."
Up three, Garden City could not slam the door. Elvis Harvey missed two free throws in the final 30 seconds, giving Butler a chance to tie the game.
"Elvis was long on both of his," Trenkle said. "I thought we had this problem fixed. I don't know what's going on there."
With a chance to even the score, Ketarrious Bouchum had a clean look at a corner 3, but the ball clanged off the back of the rim. Jeff Otchere grabbed the rebound for Garden City and was fouled. The freshman missed the first freebie, but after a Butler timeout, he put the game on ice by splashing home the second.
"All we needed to do was make a slight adjustment with Jeff," Trenkle said. "Credit them for trying to ice us, but I knew Jeff would make it."
The Broncbusters more than held their own on the defensive end. Garden City recorded seven blocks including three by Thomas, one of which preserved a four-point lead when he swatted Bouchum's shot with less than three minutes remaining.
"Our defense was pretty good, but give Butler a lot of credit," Trenkle said. "They fell down by 17 and kept fighting."
Thomas added 12 points and seven boards for Garden City, who improved to 7-3 on their home floor. Pierre Johnson netted 12 and had four assists.
Anthony Bratton finished with 13 points and five rebounds for Butler, who saw their streak of three straight conference road wins snapped. Bouchum added 14 off the bench.
"We got this one out of the way, and now it's on to Barton County," Trenkle said. "This thing gets tougher every game."
If the early minutes were any indication, Garden City appeared prime for just their third, double-digit conference win of the season. Elvis Harvey banged one home off the glass, Pierre Johnson found his way to the rim on back-to-back possessions, and the Broncbusters had a 9-2 lead three minutes into the game. But Butler answered resoundingly, thanks to a 13-5 run that was capped by Bratton's jumper that put the Grizzlies up 17-14.
From there, Garden City seized control, getting a 3-pointer from Theo Holloway to retake the lead. The Broncbusters closed the half on a 24-11 spurt to take a 10-point edge into the break.