By Mike Pilosof
Iola, KS-Late in the second half of Saturday's game with Allen, Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle was stoic, arms crossed, showing very little emotion, which, if you've watched enough Broncbuster games over the years, you know that's not the norm.
But truth be told, Trenkle and his staff did their work during the offseason, recruiting arguably the most talented team they've had in five years.
So with the game on the line Saturday, Trenkle trusted, as Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embid has so eloquently put it, the process. And his hungry team paid him back with clutch basket after clutch basket.
Kendale Hampton scored 18 points, including two shot-clock beating jumpers, Pierre Johnson dished out eight assists, and Garden City overcame a halftime deficit to beat the Red Devils 80-68 at the Allen Gym.
"We need to learn how to put two halves together," Trenkle said. "But this team has found a way to adjust at halftime. They've become really good at that actually."
Garden City (15-6, 11-6) slogged their way through the first 20 minutes, shooting just 29 percent while blowing an early seven-point lead. Then, late in the first half, Allen (6-15, 4-13) caught fire, using a 10-2 run to open up a 38-32 advantage. Johnson responded with a layup in the closing seconds to stem the tide, but the Broncbusters were down four going into the locker room.
"Being down four didn't bother me," Trenkle said. "It was our execution that did. And we couldn't make a shot."
Garden City uncharacteristically misfired on 25 of their first 35 attempts from the floor. But considering the numbers, and the fact that the Broncbusters were on the road, a four-point deficit didn't appear too daunting.
"These guys get it," Trenkle said. "They weren't satisfied with how they played in the first half, so they changed things up. That's the mark of a team that's growing."
Garden City completely flipped the script in the final 20 minutes, connecting on 16-of-31 from the field (52 percent) while outscoring the Red Devils 46-30. And with the exception of Hampton's two buzzer beaters, everything was in the flow of an intense ball-movement offense that had Allen scrambling to switch on the perimeter.
"Getting a win definitely makes the ride home more enjoyable," Trenkle said. "This is always a tough place to play. "It's a smaller gym, and the fans are right on top of you."
Trenkle's team helped keep those fans sitting for most of the second half. Following Williams 3 that gave Allen a 43-41 lead with 16:40 to, Jamir Thomas answered for Garden City, hitting a reverse layup before Elvis Harvey nailed a set-shot 3-pointer from the right wing that put the Broncbusters up for good. Thomas followed with a three-point play, finishing off a 7-0 run that gave Garden City a 46-43 edge.
"It just comes down to how much these guys wanted it," Trenkle explained.
But the dagger stretch came moments later thanks to Hampton, who beat the shot-clock horn with a 3-pointer from the wing. Johnson followed with a layup and Hampton splashed home a deep 2-pointer from the left arc that pushed the lead to 10, 58-48 with 9:17 remaining.
If there was still any hope for Allen, Russhard Cruickshank crushed it with a cold-blooded 3-pointer from the top of the key over Tevin Townsend with 6:09 to play. It was the freshman guard's lone triple of the game, and it pushed the lead back to nine.
"We hit a lot of timely shots," Trenkle said. "But we didn't force anything. I felt we forced some things in the first half, but we let things come to us in the second."
Cruickshank's usual pinpoint marksmanship wasn't on display Saturday. So he found himself slithering to the rim on dives and back cuts. He finished with 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting, but more importantly four assists in 37 key minutes. Thomas notched his sixth double-double of the season with 17 points and 14 rebounds for Garden City, who beat the Red Devils for the sixth time in their last seven meetings. Johnson chipped in 14, and Jeff Otchere tied a season-high with seven blocks.
"This was a really good win," Trenkle said. "But we have another tough one on Wednesday with Independence coming in."
Williams reached the 20-point plateau for the sixth time this season, scoring 22 on 7-of-18 shooting including 4-of-8 from downtown for Allen, which lost its fifth straight game, their longest streak since 2013.
"Allen is still figuring things out," Trenkle said. "But they can be dangerous. Any team in this league can be."
The Red Devils showed their resolve in the first half, digging out of an early 10-3 hole with Jordan Marshall's long 3-pointer and Williams's deadeye shooting. The transfer from NEO drilled a 28-foot 3-pointer from the hash mark that pulled them to within one. With six minutes to go in the half, Williams dropped in another long ball, igniting that 10-2 run that put Allen in front by six.
Next up: Garden City vs. Independence-Wednesday, Jan. 31-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkasnsanews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app