By Mike Pilosof
Pratt, KS-Despite their losing record, no team in the Jayhawk Conference has been more potent than Pratt this season. However, their defense has been one of the worst units in the country. In fact, only seven teams were allowing more points per game entering the final two weeks of the regular season.
But all Wednesday night proved was that numbers do in fact lie, and while the Beavers offense continued to impress, it was their 2-3 zone that flustered Garden City. In the end, the Broncbusters fell victim to what so many teams have this season: the three-point mirage.
AJ Banks, who hit the game winner vs. Garden City back in December, scored a season-high 26 points, the Beavers were 12-of-23 from downtown, and Pratt beat the Broncbusters 84-73 at the Beaver Dome. The staggering stat for Garden City: they attempted a season-high 37 3-pointers.
"We fell into their trap again," Head Coach Brady Trenkle said. "We had a plan coming in, and executed it for a while. But then we started jacking up 3's."
Garden City (16-10, 12-10), more specifically, Kendale Hampton, started off on fire. The sophomore splashed home two long balls in the first 3:30, giving the Broncbusters an early 10-5 advantage. But the Beavers answered with a fury, scoring 13 straight points, including two Tyvon Taylor treys that put the home team up 18-10 with 12:28 to go in the first half.
"We are the worst team in the conference guarding the 3," Trenkle said. "There is a reason for that."
With the Beavers hot start, the Broncbusters had a quandary: chase their guys off the 3-point line, or allow the most lethal shooting team in the Jayhawk to fire at will.
Unfortunately neither method worked.
When the Beavers weren't hoisting 26-footers, Sean Flynn implemented a pick-and-roll offense that was predicated on drawing big man Jeff Otchere away from the basket. The design worked flawlessly on the Beavers' first possession, when Jaylon Wilson slipped a pocket pass to Devin Marsh, who powered down a two-handed slam.
"The problem with a team that shoots it that well is they can take you off the dribble because of the threat of the 3," Trenkle said.
With Pratt (12-14, 9-13) bombing away, Hampton nearly matched them basket for basket, drilling two more triples in a 60-second stretch that capped off a 19-10 run that put Garden City on top 29-28 with 5:40 to go in the opening period. The Broncbusters' wing was 5-of-9 from deep with 17 points over the first 20 minutes.
"We took a lot of 3's, but it's not like we shot an awful percentage," Trenkle said. "But that's what Pratt wants you to do. That zone creates wide open shots, and when we needed to, we couldn't knock them down."
That lead lasted all of 34 seconds, and Marsh's layup at the 5:06 mark put the Beavers up 30-29. They never trailed again, closing the half on an 18-7 tear, finished off with Clinton Bentley's step-back 3 over Pierre Johnson that put Pratt up 46-36 at the break.
"There are several reasons why we lost this game," Trenkle said. "One major one was Jamir (Thomas) not being on the floor. He took himself out of the game. He knows he needs to bring more energy."
Thomas was in foul trouble all night and played just seven minutes.
"Just like Jeff (Otchere), we need Jamir on the floor," Trenkle said. "He will figure it out."
After Pratt built their lead to as many as 14 following Wilson's three-point play, Garden City fought back by scoring seven straight points to cut the deficit to seven five minutes into the final period. But every time they made a run, Flynn's squad diffused it, and right after Russhard Cruickshank buried a triple to make it 54-47, it was Banks on the other end, hitting a transition 3. That was followed by Asem Johnson, who took Hampton off the bounce for a left-handed finish at the rim.
"We stayed in it, but we never could get over the hump," Trenkle said.
And the Broncbusters endured two backbreakers in the final 6:22.
The first was another perfectly executed screen and roll between Taylor and Marsh that resulted in the big man's second dunk of the night, pushing the lead back to double digits. The final blow came after Hampton hit a 3 to cut a 13-point lead to 10 with 4:03 left. After forcing a stop on the defensive end, Hampton threw a lob pass to the top of the key that Banks intercepted before throwing down a vicious two-handed slam that sealed Garden City's fate.
"We have to figure this out," Trenkle said. "We have four games left before the region tournament."
Marsh recorded his sixth 20-point game of the season, finishing with 20 on 8-of-12 shooting for the Beavers, who have won four out of their last six games.
Hampton scored 23 for Garden City, which lost the season series to Pratt for the first time since 2013. Cruickshank had 19 points and hit 5 3's. It was the 11th time this season that the freshman guard has drilled three or more in a game.
Next up: Garden City vs. Coffeyville, Saturday, Feb. 17-4 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app