By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Has Patrick Nee figured out the secret sauce?
The Broncbusters have beaten Hutchinson twice, had Seward County down by double digits in the second half, and had Barton County on the ropes in their first meeting three weeks ago.
On Sunday, after digging out of nearly a foot of snow, Garden City notched another impressive mark to their resume, one that has to give the first-year coach some major confidence going into the Region VI Tournament.
Jamir Thomas had 23 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, Cheikh Kebe added 13 points, eight boards and two blocks, and Garden City took down No. 19 Barton 90-77 at Conestoga Arena. The win solidified the No. 5 seed in the Jayhawk West for the Broncbusters, sending them to Independence for their postseason opener on Wednesday night.
"Our guys know the path," Nee said. "Now the real work begins."
Garden City didn't mess around to start the game. They came out and hit four of their first six from downtown, building a 19-5 advantage once R.J. Pair drained a triple from the wing.
"We've shown that we are capable of beating elite teams in this conference," Nee said. "We just have to find a way to put it together consistently."
The Cougars responded valiantly, eventually tying the game on the heels of a 27-13 run that was capped off with John Williams 3-pointer with 1:48 to play in the half. The game was tied at 32 at the break.
"When we play together and are hitting shots, we are tough to beat," Nee explained. "When we play selfish basketball like Wednesday night, it's not good. We are good enough to win these types of games."
Garden City stormed out of the second-half gate. Thomas hit back-to-back jumpers, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Kebe finished with a soft layup inside, and Pair hit 1-of-2 free throws to put the Broncbusters up 44-35 with 15:58 remaining. Thomas added another trey, Russhard Cruickshank swished a long ball and hit a layup, and Claiborne Kyles connected on a contested jumper to make it a 13-point game. They stretched that to as many as 17 with less than six minutes to go.
"These guys know what it takes to win these games," Nee said. "It's hard to figure out sometimes."
The Cougars made one last push to get back in the game, using a 13-4 run to pull to within eight with 2:48 on the clock. But the Broncbusters finally put Barton away at the line, hitting 7-of-10 over the final 2:30, giving Garden City another statement victory.
Cruickshank and Pair each scored 12 points for the Broncbusters, who won their third game over a ranked opponent this season. Hopkins chipped in 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
Leondre Washington led the way for Barton with 25 points on 6-of-12 3's. Elijah Ford had 18, and Akeem White added 12 off the bench.
Next up: Garden City at Independence-Wednesday, Feb. 27-8 p.m. tip on AM 1030; westernkansasnews.com/kbuf and KBUF mobile app