By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Patrick Nee has stated all season long that his team has a chance to make a serious run come March. And while the rest of the conference may have dismissed those remarks, Hutchinson got a first-hand look of just how dangerous these Broncbusters can be.
Jamir Thomas put together a career night, scoring 29 points, pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out four assists as Garden City hammered No. 22 Hutchinson 93-58 Saturday night at Conestoga Arena. It was the first time the Broncbusters swept the Blue Dragons in a season since 2005, and it's their most lopsided victory over Hutchinson in program history.
"We finally put it all together," Nee said afterwards. "It was a beautiful thing to watch in the second half."
Leading 35-32 going into the final frame, the Broncbusters put together one of their best 20-minute stretches since they drilled a program-record 17 3's vs. Colby last season. Garden City shot 61 percent (17-of-28) and was 7-of-10 from downtown in the second half. And the second-worst free throw shooting team in the Jayhawk Conference was 17-of-20 in the game's final stanza.
"It was a complete effort," Nee said. "But that's what we are capable of. When I say we're heading in the right direction, these guys believe it."
Garden City hit Hutchinson with an avalanche to begin the second half. Thomas made a layup, Traylynn Spencer drilled a 3, and Thomas deposited a rim-rattling dunk that put the Broncbusters up 42-35. Moments later, Russhard Cruickshank splashed home a trey from the wing, Thomas swished a long ball, banked home a layup and hit two free throws, and Jakobi Pearson knocked down two from the stripe, polishing off a 14-0 run that put Garden City up 56-37 with 14:11 to play.
"We've proven that we can play with anyone," Nee said. "We just have to finish. Tonight, we finished."
The Blue Dragons looked stymied in the second half. Steve Eck's team missed on 23 of their 32 shots over the final 20 minutes and scored just 26 points.
Meanwhile, Garden City took their first 20-point lead when Cruickshank hit a pair of free throws; then went up by 30 on Pearson's nifty driving layup that made it 88-58 with 1:09 remaining.
"We have to be able to do this on a consistent basis, which I believe we can," Nee said. "These guys are buying in, and everyone has a great attitude right now."
The turning point in the game may have come late in the first half when the Blue Dragons, leading by two, were whistled for an intentional foul. Jaleel Simmons hit two free throws, and Claiborne Kyles followed with a 3 to give Garden City a 32-30 edge. After Malique Jacobs tied the game with a jumper, Kyles hit another trey in the final 20 seconds of the period to give Garden City a three-point cushion at the break.
Cruickshank scored 14 points in 36 minutes for the Broncbusters, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Kyles tallied a season-high 17 off the bench in 26 minutes, nailing a career-best five triples. Pearson chipped in 10 points and six assists.
James Rojas, who returned from a month-long absence, scored 20 points in 36 minutes off the bench for Hutchinson.
Next up: Garden City vs. Northwest Tech-Monday, Feb. 11-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app