By Mike Pilosof
Great Bend, KS-Normally after a loss, a team dissects everything that they did wrong. It's a common practice for coaches, who are obsessive by nature.
But on Saturday night, Garden City did not do much wrong. It was just a case that neither did Barton County. In the end, it was the first-place Cougars who survived one of the best conference games of the season to date.
Marvin Cannon scored 18 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, Kawanise Wilkins added 20, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:36 to go, and No. 11 Barton County held off Garden City 86-81 at the Kirkman Center. It was the Cougars ninth win over the Broncbusters in their last 11 meetings.
"I'm so proud of my guys," Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle said. "Barton County is a really good team, and we fought with them every step of the way. I know they're disappointed, but we are getting better, and it all comes down to what you do come tournament time."
If these two teams do in fact meet up at Hartman Arena in March, hold on to your hats.
In a game that featured 26 lead changes, neither team gained much traction. But in the first half, the Broncbusters were the aggressor, quickly digging out of an early 4-0 hole to build a five-point edge once Theo Holloway drained a 3-pointer that capped an 8-0 surge to give Garden City (13-6, 9-6) a 14-9 lead with 15:10 to go.
"All my guys are doing is getting better," Trenkle said. "Playing a team like that forces you to get better."
But the Broncbusters could never pull away as the lead changed hands 11 times before the half. Barton County 16-2, 13-2) countered with a 9-3 punch and jumped in front when Cannon nailed a long 3-pointer from the top of the key. The teams exchanged bombs over the next two minutes before Jeff Otchere rattled the rim with a put-back dunk, Russhard Cruickshank connected on one of his five triples on the night, and Garden City was back up by five. They led 37-32 at the intermission.
"This was a really good game," Trenkle said. "Whatever we did, they matched. Whatever they did, we answered."
So no one was surprised when the Cougars shot out of the gates in the second half with a 6-0 run to take the lead back. But Garden City did not flinch, and calmly responded with a 15-8 spurt, which was capped with a 6-0 run that put the Broncbusters up 52-46 with 15:21 left in the game.
"There were stretches where we looked really comfortable," Trenkle said. "They just have a bunch of guys that can take you off the dribble. We have a bunch of big guys trying to chase them around all night. It was definitely a challenge."
As quickly as Garden City built their six-point cushion; it was gone in the blink of an eye. Cannon scored five straight; then added a 3-pointer and a beautiful lob pass to Elijah Ford at the rim, putting the Cougars up six, 63-57 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
"Our guys have gone through a lot this week," Trenkle said. "I couldn't start Elvis (Harvey) in the second half because he had an asthma attack in the locker room. But every team deals with those kinds of things. Barton County was without one of their best shooters. That's just how it goes."
Even with Harvey playing in spurts in the second half, Garden City managed to climb the ladder again. Harvey hit two free throws followed by Pierre Johnson's 3-pointer and double-clutch foul-line jumper that gave Garden City a one-point edge. After a Keshon Montague triple for Barton County, the Broncbusters took their final lead when Cruickshank buried a bomb from the right wing, making it 69-68 with 4:55 remaining.
"I keep telling our guys that all that matters is how you're playing going into the tournament," Trenkle said. "From three, anything can happen."
Garden City's euphoria lasted all of 19 seconds before Wilkins hit the go-ahead long ball with 4:36 remaining for Barton County. Seven straight points ensued, and the Cougars opened up their biggest lead, 78-71 with just over a minute left.
We didn't win the game, but we did a lot of really good things," Trenkle said. "We shot well at the free throw line, and we outrebounded them."
Garden City became just the fifth team to outrebound the Cougars this season. They even gave themselves a chance in the final 60 seconds.
Down by six, Montague fouled Kendale Hampton on a 3-point attempt from the right wing. The sophomore though missed the first before draining the final two. He made it up for moments later when canned a trey from the top of the key that sliced the Cougars lead to three, 84-81 with 16 seconds on the clock. But Noah Webster, who was 11th in the conference in free throw percentage, put the game away with two freebies in the closing seconds.
Ford finished with 15 points, eight of which came in the first two minutes of the second half for Barton County, who improved to 12-1 in their building this season. Montague added 12 and Webster had 11 on 6-of-7 shooting from the line.
Harvey poured in a season-high 17 points on 3-of-4 from long range for the Broncbusters, who failed to secure its first three-game winning streak since November. Cruickshank had 19 points and hit five 3-pointers while Hampton had 13 and Thomas 11.
Next up: Garden City vs. Cowley-Wednesday, Jan. 24-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM: westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app