By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Patrick Nee welcomed back Jamir Thomas, Jaleel Simmons and Tony Hopkins Saturday from a three-game suspension. His hope was that his team's fortunes would turn around. Instead, the Broncbusters found themselves in the middle of their first five-game losing streak since 2016.
Jibrill Harris tallied his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds, Tyreece Berry added 11, and Independence upended Garden City 70-65 at Conestoga Arena.
"We just have to figure a way to get out of this," Nee said afterwards. "It's all about mindset. We have a must-win game now on Wednesday to save our season."
Nee had to be concerned with what he saw from his team in the first half. The Broncbusters looked lifeless at times as the Pirates built an 18-point lead late in the opening period.
"We're headed in the right direction," Nee said. "But this is a game we really wanted coming off the break."
To compound things, the Broncbusters couldn't buy a basket, misfiring on 12 of their first 14 shots from the field while clanging their first seven triples. They finished the first half 9-of-30 (30 percent).
"We have to find a way to knock down shots," Nee said. "We are really struggling in that area right now."
Independence (10-5, 5-1) scored 10 straight points and used a 15-4 run, turning a 6-6 game into an 11-point advantage, 21-10 with 7:45 to play in the first half. The Pirates stretched that lead to 18 when Berry drained two free throws. They were up 38-22 at intermission.
"We scored 22 points in the first half; that's not very good," Nee stated. "We still haven't put two halves together."
Garden City (6-8, 1-4) was again down 18 early in the second half before things slowly started to turn. Hopkins finished a three-point play, Simmons buried a triple, and Russhard Cruickshank converted a Pirates' turnover into an easy layup, putting a stamp on a 10-0 run that pulled Garden City to within eight, 40-32 with 14:47 remaining.
"I thought we did a lot of good things in the second half," Nee said. "We just have to learn how to put a complete game together."
The Broncbusters kept coming, and Cruickshank's 3 from the top of the key put the finishing touches on a 19-4 spurt that cut the Pirates edge to 44-41.
"We showed a lot in the second half, and we put ourselves in a position to win the game," Nee said.
Cruickshank was far from finished, knocking down consecutive triples in the final five minutes before hanging in the air, drawing a foul and nailing a 15-foot jumper that made it a one-point game, 61-60 with 2:56 to play. Seconds later, Hopkins ripped the ball out of Harris's hands before getting it back from Simmons and laying it in off the glass, giving Garden City their first lead of the night.
"We need to be able to finish in a situation like this," Nee said.
Unfortunately, that lead lasted less than 10 seconds. Tonje Durham beat Garden City down the floor for a layup; then hit a 3 on the next possession to push the Independence lead to 66-62.
"That was the only possession in the second half that we didn't get back defensively," Nee said. "And they made us pay."
The Broncbusters still had a chance to tie the game in the final 30 seconds. But Cruickshank and Hopkins both bricked 3-pointers. Jakobi Pearson gave the Broncbusters some life with an offensive rebound and stick back, but Garden City fell asleep on the ensuing inbounds pass when Harris streaked behind Schneider Casseus for a layup. During the play, Casseus was called for an intentional foul, and Harris drained both free throws to put the game away.
"I saw a lot of good things in the second half," Nee said. "I thought Jaleel played with a lot of heart as did Tony. Everyone saw that those guys can really help us."
Cruickshank poured in 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting for Garden City, who shot under 40 percent for the first time since Dec. 1. Hopkins scored 13 and ripped down eight rebounds, and Simmons had nine.
Durham scored 10 points for the Pirates, who have won 10 out of their last 12 games after an 0-3 start.
Next up: Garden City vs. Neosho-Wednesday, Jan. 9-5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasenws.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app