By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-When Garden City lost in Arkansas City to Cowley County in November, Brady Trenkle easily could have burned the film and moved on. Instead, that tape served as a reminder that in the Jayhawk Conference, a game is never over until the teams are walking off the floor. And even then it's questionable.
Pierre Johnson scored 14 points including four clutch free throws in final 38 seconds, Kendale Hampton also tallied 14, and the Broncbusters served up a little payback after blowing a five-point lead in the final 30 seconds two months ago with a dramatic 66-64 victory Wednesday night at Conestoga Arena. With the win, Garden City moved into a tie with Colby for fourth place and is now just two games back of Coffeyville for third.
"This was a good win for us," Broncbusters Coach Brady Trenkle said. "But I don't know why we continue to struggle at home. It's mindboggling."
When the two teams met in the first part of the conference season, the Broncbusters missed 18 free throws, including two late by Russhard Cruickshank that would have put the game away in regulation. Instead the Tigers tied it with a tip back by Darnell Cowart and eventually won the game in overtime.
"We learned a valuable lesson from that game," Trenkle said. "We've been working on free throws ever since. And we missed some tonight, but we hit them went it counted. I'm so proud of Pierre."
Johnson was trying to shake off his own troubles at the stripe on Wednesday, but with his team down two with 43 seconds left following Cedric Rembert's offensive rebound and stick back, the sophomore was solid, splashing home a pair to tie the contest. Then, after Cowart missed a contested 3 over Elvis Harvey at the top of the key, Johnson secured the rebound and was fouled. He sprinted to other end and knocked both freebies in, giving Garden City (14-6, 10-6) a 66-64 edge with 10 seconds left.
"To step up there with that type of pressure was big," Trenkle said. "We missed a lot of free throws tonight, but I kept telling our guys that the only reason they're missing them was because they were thinking about it. Stop thinking about it and knock them down."
The Broncbusters were 14-of-24 at the line on the night, but when they needed them Johnson delivered.
Still, Garden City needed one more stop. And with no timeouts remaining for Cowley County (12-8, 9-7), Rembert sprinted into the frontcourt, took Cruickshank off the dribble and floated a shot towards the rim. After it clanged off the front iron, Brenden Van Dyke grabbed the offensive rebound, but his put back fell short, and the Broncbusters improved to 6-3 this season in games decided by four points or less.
"We were lucky there," Trenkle said. "Both of those shots at the end were just short. But credit Cowley, they came in here on a mission. And we knew that. But we found a way to get it done."
The Broncbuster defense was superb, holding Cowley County to just 35 percent shooting on 21-of-60 from the field. It was their offense though that allowed the Tigers to stay in the game.
Cowley County used an 8-0 run midway through the first half to open up their largest lead of the game, 23-12 once Cole Kinnamon, nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner while drifting towards the end line. Garden City battled back and cut it to 2 on Cruickshank's layup with two minutes to go. But Jeremiah Starks answered with two free throws for Cowley County, and Kinnamon hit another trey in the final five seconds to put the road team up 35-27 at the half.
"We knew coming in that Kinnamon was playing really well," Trenkle said. "And Cowart is such a good player, and he's a really good kid. They're a good team."
The Broncbusters crawled back in the first seven minutes of the second half, and took their first lead since the opening minutes when Cruickshank drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner. Moments later, Hampton stepped in the passing lane for a steal and an uncontested layup that put Garden City up 43-40 with 12:27 left in the game.
That's when things got sloppy.
Three straight Broncbuster turnovers ensued, and Cowley County countered with an 8-0 run that was finished off with Starks steal and layup that gave the Tigers a 48-43 edge with 10:12 remaining. They bumped that to six with less than eight minutes to go, while Garden City was searching for an answer offensively.
With the game tight, Jamir Thomas took control, hitting a nifty layup where he snuck the ball under Cowart's left arm to pull the Broncbusters to within one. After Cowart answered with deuce on the other end, Thomas splashed home a long ball from the right wing to tie the game at 55 at the 4:59 mark.
"Everyone stepped up," Trenkle said. "I know Jamir fouled out but how about him stepping out there and hitting that 3-pointer. We had confidence in him."
But when Cowley County went back up by three on Cowart's bomb from the top of the key; coupled with Harvey bricking two free throws for Garden City, shades of the November showdown started to show itself again.
Thanks to Theo Holloway, they can put those memories to bed.
Following a defensive stop, Holloway splashed home a 26-foot 3-pointer from straight away that tied the game at 62.
"Theo does that in practice all the time," Trenkle said. "When the clock is winding down, he wants to take that shot. I wanted us to drive, but Pierre whispered to him to pop out. He shot it and made it. That's all there is to it."
The transfer from Vincennes Junior College, finished with seven points and four rebounds off the bench for Garden City, who improved to 8-3 at home. Cruickshank chipped in 12 points and Thomas had seven and 10 boards before fouling out late in the second half.
Cowart scored 17 points for Cowley County, who dropped their fourth straight game. They're now 4-7 in their last 11 games. Kinnamon, who was the hero a few weeks back after nailing a half-court buzzer beater to beat Independence, netted 15 points on 3-of-6 from downtown. Starks scored 12 of his 13 in the second half and Van Dyke had seven points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Next up: Garden City at Allen-Saturday, Jan. 27-4 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app