By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Just get this team to Wichita. That's what Brady Trenkle has been preaching to his guys for the better part of two months.
On Thursday night, his guys delivered, taking down one of the hottest teams in the Jayhawk Conference in the process
Jamir Thomas recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds, Russhard Cruickshank nailed five more 3's, and Garden City reached the Region VI quarterfinals with a 91-85 victory over Allen County in the opening round. The Broncbusters move on to play Cowley Sunday afternoon.
"When we play defense like that, we feel like we can beat anyone in the country," Cruickshank said after the game. "We had some lapses, but when we play together, we are tough to beat."
Garden City was tasked with slowing down a flame-throwing Red Devils squad, who had hit 47 combined 3's in the previous four games. And while Allen County nailed 12-of-31 from long range, the Broncbuster contests and switching man-to-man defense made nothing easy.
"Tyler Williams is a great player," Head Coach Brady Trenkle said. "You can't slow him down. "
Williams was coming off back-to-back 30-point games while shooting a ridiculous 53 percent from downtown during the Red Devils four-game winning streak. He scored 25 more on Thursday.
"The game has changed so much," Trenkle said. "And it's because guys watch Stephen Curry. You could see it with Tyler tonight. He knew how to use the screen and step back for 3. Then if we overplayed, he drove to the basket. He's just a good basketball player."
Williams definitely made Garden City (20-11, 15-11) sweat a little bit, but with their season on the line, Trenkle's team rose to the occasion.
The first half saw eight lead changes and eight ties with Allen County (10-21, 8-18) building a four-point edge when Williams hit a driving, right-handed layup to make it 23-19 with 10:48 left in the period. That's when Garden City got physical. Jeff Otchere swatted a shot on one end, then caught Pierre Johnson's beautiful pocket pass and rocked the rim with a two-handed stuff from the right block on the other. Two possessions later, Johnson grabbed Kendale Hampton's missed 3-pointer before zipping a pass to Thomas, who jammed it with the left hand. Thomas added a stick-back layup the next time down the floor, and Garden City was up four, 31-27 with 6:12 remaining in the half.
"I know records don't show it, but Allen County is so much better than they were a month ago," Trenkle said. "Every time we made a run, they answered."
Right on cue, the Red Devils got a three-point play from Jamaal Clifton, and Ahmad Winston canned a transition 3, giving the road squad a 37-34 advantage. But the Broncbusters closed strong, and Johnson hit back-to-back buckets to give Garden City a one-point lead at the break.
"We have a lot of confidence right now for sure," Cruickshank said.
And it was on full display in the second half.
The freshman scored 22 of his team-best 25 points over the final 20 minutes. His 3-pointer three minutes into the second half fueled an 11-0 run that gave Garden City their biggest lead of the game 53-42 with 15 minutes to play.
"My teammates had confidence in me, and they just kept finding me," Cruickshank said. "That gave me even more confidence."
Down 11, the Red Devils completely flipped the game during a two-minute stretch that had Conestoga Arena stunned. Winston drained back-to-back long balls, Williams beat two defenders off the bounce, and Perry Carroll hit a contested, right-wing 3 to tie the game at 53. After Thomas split a pair of free throws to put Garden City back up by one, Rayce Hopeker, one of the most lethal 3-point shooters in the state during his senior season at Humboldt, grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back home, giving the Red Devils a 55-54 advantage.
"Nothing was easy about this game," Trenkle said. "But that's what this league is all about. It shows you how good this league is."
Garden City was not down for long thanks to Cruickshank, who answered with consecutive triples before nailing another with 7:49 remaining in the game that gave the Broncbusters a seven-point cushion. They stretched that to nine on Thomas's nifty finish at the basket.
"We knew how hot Allen was coming into this game," Cruickshank said. "We had to be active defensively."
The Red Devils put another scare in Trenkle's bunch when Carroll polished off a 10-3 surge that cut the Broncbusters lead to two with 3:50 left. But Hampton hit a layup, Thomas completed a three-point play, and Johnson finished at the basket for an 85-77 lead at the 1:45 mark. Allen County never got closer than five the rest of the way.
Cruickshank finished 4-of-7 from deep in the second half for Garden City, who won their fourth straight game. He added four rebounds and two steals, while Holloway, who was a big question mark after spraining his ankle vs. Seward County on Monday night, chipped in 10 off the bench. Hampton added 14 on 6-of-11 shooting.
Carroll scored 21 points for Allen County, who lost in the opening round for the seventh straight season. Jacob Patterson tallied 12 points and Winston had nine to lead the reserves.
Next up: Garden City vs. Cowley (Region VI Quarterfinals)-Sunday, March 4-2:45 p.m. pregame; 3 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app