By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Early in the season, Garden City showed a type of energy that had everyone bouncing around. But during their recent five-game skid, the Broncbusters, at times, looked like a totally different team.
That brings us to Wednesday night, when Patrick Nee's team rediscovered their true identity. And when it was all said and done, the Broncbusters completely shutdown one of the best offensive teams in the conference.
Russhard Cruickshank buried four triples and finished with 17 points, Jamir Thomas chipped in his best performance of the season with 13 points and 12 boards, and Garden City smoked Neosho 79-59 at Conestoga Arena.
"I felt like our defense really locked in," Nee said afterwards. "I think we are a pretty good offensive team, but when our defense comes around, then we can go places."
That defense held the conference's sixth-highest scoring team to just 59 points on 44 percent shooting, turning a close game into a demolition. In fact, the Panthers scored the first five points of the game while the Broncbusters looked out of sorts. But Cruickshank drained back-to-back long balls, fueling a 9-0 run that had Garden City on top 9-5.
"We moved the ball, and everything just came in rhythm tonight," Nee added.
After Neosho edged their way back to within one on Arkel Williams midrange jumper, Garden City hit the Panthers with the first of several avalanches. Thomas threw down two ferocious dunks; hit 3-of-4 free throws and Jakobi Pearson drained three freebies, putting the cap on an 11-0 run that had the Broncbusters up 12, 30-18 with 4:24 left in the half. They were up six heading to the locker room.
"This was the best game that we've played in a while," Nee said.
Neosho hung around for the first couple of minutes of the second half. But eventually, Garden City took full command. Steven Samuels posturizing dunk on Brian Tolefree ignited the home crowd. RJ Pair and Traylyn Spencer knocked down 3-pointers before Cruickshank hit a step back from the wing, punctuating a 20-2 spurt that had the Broncbusters on top 56-33 10 minutes into the period. That lead swelled to as high as 27 following Cheikh Kebe's baseline hammer with 3:10 left.
"I think we got back to doing what we do," Nee said. "And it all starts in practice."
Tony Hopkins was fantastic for a second straight game, scoring 13 points, pulling down six rebounds and dishing out three assists, including an absolute dime to Thomas, that set up one of his two dunks. The Broncbusters shot 48 percent from the field and outrebounded the Panthers 49-33. They outscored them in the paint 44-26.
Jay McMiller scored 12 points for the Panthers, who were held to their lowest point total since opening night vs. Labette. Tolefree added 11, but was just 3-of-9 shooting.
Next up: Garden City at Butler-Saturday, Jan. 12-3 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app