By Mike Pilosof
El Dorado, KS-If Patrick Nee could bottle up his team's last three second halves, Garden City would be unstoppable. Unfortunately, the first half has been the issue, and on Saturday, it once again led to their demise.
Juwan White scored 21 points in 39 minutes, Kamron Brice tied a season-high with four 3's, and Butler held off another furious Broncbuster rally to win 82-69 at the Power Plant.
"We keep putting ourselves in bad positions in the second half," Nee said afterwards. "If we just did what we were supposed to in the first half, we wouldn't be in that situation."
The Grizzlies dominated the start of the game, scoring the first five points and building an 11-point edge following Immanuel Allen's pullup jumper. After Jamir Thomas's rim-shaking dunk ended a four-minute dry spell for Garden City (7-9, 2-5), the Grizzlies went for the throat. Brice nailed a triple from the top of the key, Tryone Coley hit back-to-back bunnies in the lane, and Chiddy Golden canned a long ball, spearheading an 11-0 run that had Butler (11-6, 4-4) up 30-10 with 8:50 left in the half. They pushed that to 21 moments later when Daviyon Dennis splashed home a 3.
"It was hard to gain any type of rhythm in this game," Nee said. "We had guys in foul trouble all game."
Jamir Thomas, who eventually fouled out with eight points, played a season-low 14 minutes and was only on the floor for seven in the first half after picking up his third foul. Tony Hopkins joined him on the bench when he was whistled for his third. Those two played a combined 26 minutes.
"I felt it was hard to be aggressive with them because every time we did, there was a whistle," Nee said.
The Broncbusters did persevere towards the end of the first half, using an 18-11 run to close to within 13, 41-28 at the break.
Taking a page out of what they did against Independence last week, the Broncbusters picked things up in the second half. Hopkins connected on consecutive layups, RJ Pair buried a 3 from the left wing, and Russhard Cruickshank, who was held without a field goal in the first half, scored four straight to make it a seven-point game. Then, after a Hopkins missed a hook, it was Cheikh Kebe crashing the offensive class and throwing down a vicious two-handed jam before Jakobi Pearson sliced through the lane for an easy layup that capped off an 11-0 surge that pulled Garden City to within three, 60-57 with 7:12 to go.
"We were right there again," Nee said. "But again, we didn't finish."
With the Grizzlies staggering a bit, the Broncbusters missed a golden opportunity. Instead, Butler countered with White, who hit a back-breaking, double-clutch 3-pointer from right wing over Pearson that put the home team up nine. They eventually stretched it back to 11.
"We are going to figure this thing out," Nee said. "I thought we took a half step back and then another one forward. We are getting better each game."
Garden City made one final push in the final four minutes, trimming the deficit to six with 2:32 to play. But that's as close as they got. Allen converted a three-point play, White swished two free throws and Jon'il Fugett hit an off-balance shot in the lane to put Butler back up by 13.
The Grizzlies shot 51 percent from the floor and hit eight triples, their second highest total of the season. Brice scored 18 points, and Allen chipped in 11 for the Grizzlies, who won for the third time in their last four games.
Hopkins scored 12 to pace Garden City, who dropped to 2-4 on the road this season. Pearson tallied 11, and Cruickshank finished with 10.
Next up: Garden City vs. Seward County-Monday, Jan. 14-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app