By Mike Pilosof
Dodge City, KS-Garden City has had a problem closing games all season. Patrick Nee is hoping Saturday's victory exercises some late-game demons.
Jamir Thomas tallied 19 points and eight rebounds, Russhard Cruickshank returned from a one-game suspension to drop four treys, and the Broncbusters took down rival Dodge City 70-66 at the Student Activity Center.
"This is a really tough conference," Nee said. "Every night is a dog fight."
Nee was an assistant last year when Dodge City pummeled the Broncbusters by 17 at Conestoga Arena. He wanted nothing more than to return the favor.
The Broncbusters were the aggressors early, scoring the first six points of the game—capped by Jakobi Pearson's dime to Tony Hopkins. They had their first double-digit lead when Thomas drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 18-8 with 10:39 left in the first half and stretched that to 14 following RJ Pair's four-point play that gave them a 24-10 advantage with less than nine minutes to go before halftime.
"When we took that lead, I think there were three straight possessions where we took ill-advised 3's," Nee recalled. "We do that a lot where we build a big lead and kind of relax. That's what happened again here today."
Dodge City stormed back with a 24-6 blitz, and when KJ Reckley took the ball away from Jaleel Simmons that led to a Trey Hill layup, the Conquistadors had tied the game a 30. Hill then split two free throws and completed a three-point play, giving the home team a 34-30 advantage at the break.
"We're not a very good team when we're relaxed," Nee said. "We are much better when we are playing with a chip on our shoulder."
Garden City found themselves down by six early in the second half after Jyrus Freels knocked down a triple three minutes into the frame. But Nee's team responded, and Thomas's finger roll polished off a 10-0 run that had the Broncbusters up 49-44 with 12:01 left in the game.
"We need to learn how to finish the first half and close games," Nee said. "We were much better in the second half."
Garden City was tested again down the stretch. Dodge City erased a six-point deficit in the final five minutes. Kevin Howard completed a three-point play, and Dixon hit a pullup 3-pointer to knot the game at 66 with 1:50 to play.
"I think bad offense is the reason why our leads go away," Nee said. "It almost happened to us again today."
With 1:30 on the clock, Thomas made his most impressive move of the game. He spun along the left baseline, went up and under before finishing with a reverse layup on the right, putting Garden City up 68-66. After Howard missed a layup on the other end, Thomas splashed home a foul-line jumper, making it a four-point game. At the same time, the defense put the clamps down, holding the Conquistadors scoreless the final 1:50 of the game.
"We did what we had to to win a game against a rival," Nee said. "This one feels pretty good.:
Hopkins scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting in 23 minutes for Garden City, who snapped a two-game skid. Simmons added five assists and one steal.
Freels scored all 16 of his points in the second half for Dodge City, who shot just 35 percent from the field (24-of-69). Howard added 10 points and five rebounds.
Next up: Garden City vs. Colby-Wednesday, January 30-8 p.m. on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app