By Mike Pilosof
Wichita, KS-Three minutes into Tuesday night's Region VI semifinal, tournament-hero Kendale Hampton had a huge smile on his face. The sophomore, who buried Cowley with a game-winning, contested 3-pointer in overtime on Sunday, just hit a transition triple to put Garden City up 11-0 over a team that had not lost a game in nearly two months.
From that moment on, everything changed. Coffeyville's foundation, which appeared cracked and ready to crumble to the ground, hit the reset button. And what ensued was a complete 180, one that completely wiped away one of the most brilliant starts the Broncbusters enjoyed all season long.
Marvin Johnson scored 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, Travis Washington tallied 17 on 3-of-6 from downtown, and the 10th-ranked Red Ravens outlasted Garden City 65-57 at Hartman Arena. With the win, Coffeyville advanced to play Hutchinson, who knocked off Barton County, in the Region VI Finals on Wednesday night.
"It's frustrating; that's for sure," Head Coach Brady Trenkle said. "We go from being up 11 to being down six at halftime. And you ask yourself what changed?"
To be honest, the only thing that was different was a tighter whistle.
The one area where Garden City (21-12, 15-11) has had a significant advantage over any other team in the Jayhawk Conference was in the post, and with Jamir Thomas (17th in the nation in blocks) and Jeff Otchere (first) manning the middle, most teams don't stand a chance going inside. But on Tuesday, both big men found themselves in foul trouble. In fact, most everyone wearing a dark-gray uniform did. In the end, the whistles changed the game, and the look on Trenkle's face minutes after his team's season came to an end, said it all.
"I can't say anything about it, but obviously you can see my face," Trenkle said. "We teach our big guys to play a certain way. Then when they do, they call fouls. How frustrating is that for them when they're doing what we ask."
In New York, there is a place atop of the Empire State Building that overlooks the entire city of Manhattan. It's one of the most breathtaking views in the country.
The first part of Tuesday night's tilt was equally as breathtaking, and Hampton started off exactly where he left off on Sunday drilling three treys in the first three minutes to put Garden City up 11-0.
:I said it the other day that Kendale is special," Trenkle said.
After Casey Benton finally got Coffeyville (28-4, 23-4) on the board with 16:25 to play in the first half, Thomas hit two free throws to stretch the lead back to 11, and shades of Kris Bauman's magical run in 2009 came to the forefront.
"Maybe we don't continue to shoot like that," Trenkle said afterwards. "But we've proven that we can stay hot. Look what we did to Colby."
With the lead at 11, Otchere picked up two quick fouls, forcing Trenkle to park one of the most lethal big men in the region on the bench for the duration of the first half. The freshman played only two minutes in a frustrating opening stanza.
"We had to adjust to a couple of different lineups," Trenkle said. "So hats off to our guys. We struggled to score, but we defended really well."
Coffeyville eventually cut the deficit to six when Johnson splashed home two free throws with 10:17 remaining in the half. But it seemed like the Broncbusters had weathered the storm once Russhard Cruickshank hit a 3-pointer over Benton from the top of the key to make it 18-9.
Unfortunately they did not, and what transpired over the final 10 minutes of the half can only be describe as an absolute avalanche.
The Red Ravens fought back to tie the game at 23 when Johnson hit a transition layup. Cedric Roland knocked down 1-of-2 free throws, and Benton hit a corner 3 to push the Coffeyville lead to four. With less 30 seconds to play in the period, Trenkle, inexplicably was called for a technical foul, which Washington converted into two free throws, capping off a 10-0 run that sent the hottest team in the Jayhawk Conference into the locker room up 29-23. Garden City failed to score the final 5:25 of the half.
"It could have been worse at the end of the first half," Trenkle said. "But our guys were tough. And even in foul trouble, they held their own."
It didn't matter that the starters were back on the floor to begin the second half. The Red Ravens continued their onslaught, and Joshua Hill went right at Thomas, who was playing with three fouls, to give the Red Ravens a 10-point cushion. Moments later, the Region's top seed stretched it to 12 on Johnson's left-handed finish.
"We just had to get the fouls out of our mind," Trenkle said. "It's tough. When you're playing that hard and not getting rewarded."
The Broncbusters needed a spark, and Pierre Johnson provided it.
The sophomore guard scored six straight points, Hampton buried another long ball, and Garden City was within three, 37-34 with 14:47 to go.
"Our guys never felt like they were out of it," Trenkle said. "We proved on Sunday that we could do it."
Moments later, Johnson hit a layup and was fouled, Theo Holloway splashed home an 18 footer before knocking down a pullup, left-wing triple that gave Garden City their first lead of the second half, 45-44 with 8:58 left.
"We had the momentum," Trenkle said.
But every time it seemed like the Broncbusters were going to go on one of those crazy runs, something intervened. A frustrated Holloway was called for a technical foul, Washington hit the two freebies, Hill answered with one more at the line, and Coffeyville had a 50-47 edge at the 7:14 mark.
Needing another answerer, Hampton stepped back into view, and with the shot clock ticking down, the sophomore cleverly drew a foul on Washington shooting a 3 from the right wing. He followed by hitting all three free throws to tie it. 30 seconds later, Otchere split a pair at the line, and Garden City had a 51-50 advantage with 5:35 to play.
"We just needed to get stops," Trenkle said. "And credit Washington because he hit some big shots for them."
Washington was fantastic down the stretch, launching a moon ball from 26 feet that hit nothing but the bottom of the net to put the Red Ravens back in front. A couple of possessions later, Washington did it again, from two feet further back. And by the time Trenkle looked up, his team had endured a 4:45 scoring drought, which coincided with a 12-0 Coffeyville surge. Just like that, the Broncbusters season was over.
"These guys made me love basketball again," Trenkle said. "It was a rough year last season, but these guys made me enjoy going to the gym every day. I forgot what that felt like."
Hampton scored 24 points for Garden City, who fell short of their first region title game in nine years. Johnson added 13 points, and Cruickshank had eight, but was just 3-of-15 from the floor.
Benton tallied 14 points in 32 minutes for the Red Ravens, who reached the finals for a second straight season. Hill had nine points and 11 rebounds; six of those coming on the offensive glass.