By Mike Pilosof
Pratt, KS-Oftentimes, teammates that have played together for a while have no problem keeping it real. Such was the case during a second-half timeout on Wednesday night. And the not-so-subtle message from Jamir Thomas to his wing man Russhard Cruickshank: shoot the ball.
"If you're open, shoot it, don't worry what I say," Thomas told him.
Thomas followed that up with an emphatic scream. Cruickshank answered with three straight 3's, and well, the rest is history.
"Those guys know each other really well," Nee said. "And they're both stepping up and becoming better leaders for us."
"We really needed that win to keep this thing going," Nee said "We are starting to grow up."
Following a 35-point win over No. 22 Hutchinson, the Broncbusters experienced plenty of growing pains in this one. An early 13-0 Pratt run had the Beavers up 17-4 with 11:10 to go in the first half. Later in the opening period, Blake Furcron drilled an open 3, and Pratt was on top 25-11.
"We didn't start off well at all," Nee said. "We weren't executing anything."
But the Broncbusters weathered the early storm. Thomas threw down a ferocious right-handed jam, Tony Hopkins stole the ball and laid it home, Spencer swished a trey, and Hopkins buried two free throws to get Garden City within three, 32-29 with 2:18 to play in the half.
"We worked our way back in the game," Nee said. "But I've been saying it all season: we have to be more consistent."
That's as close as the Broncbusters would get the rest of the period as the Beavers closed the frame on a 10-3 run and led 42-32 at the break.
"We did all that work to get back into it, and then we were still down 10 at the half," Nee said. "That was disappointing."
To make matters worse, the malaise that affected Garden City over the final two minutes of the first half, stretched into the final period. Teddy Fifer knocked down a jumper before canning a triple, stretching the Beavers' lead back to 14, 51-37 with 15:16 to play.
"This game was a grind," Nee said. "But that's what you expect when you play Pratt."
Then came the exchange between Thomas and Cruickshank.
"Those guys have respect for one another," Nee said. "Sometimes things need to be said."
Cruickshank didn't take anything personal. Instead, the sophomore guard put his team on his back, swishing three straight long balls, Hopkins split a pair of free throws, and just like that the game was tied at 57.
"Things flowed much better in the second half," Nee added. "We just needed to execute. We had a couple of baskets on weakside cuts, which we couldn't even get in the first half."
Pratt didn't make anything easy, and when Fifer hit a contested 3 from the right wing, the Beavers were up 68-63 with 2:40 remaining.
"We had to dig deep," Nee said.
Cruickshank and Hopkins responded with layups to cut the deficit to one. Then Hopkins made the play of the game.
Following a steal by R.J. Pair, the Freshman forward from Indianapolis, IN, barreled into the lane, challenged Martin Lakovic and finished with a powerful two-handed layup while drawing the foul. It was the fifth on Lakovic, who watched from the bench as Hopkins hit the free throw that gave Garden City their first lead since the opening minute of the game.
"That was just a heads up play by Tony," Nee said. "He took advantage of the numbers and finished strong."
The Broncbusters pushed the advantage to four in the final 14 seconds after Thomas knocked down a pair of free throws, seemingly putting the game on ice. But Jerome Bivens hit a fallaway 3 from the right corner to slice the Garden City lead to one. Then, following two more free throws by Thomas, the Beavers caught a massive break when Drew Maschoff's inbounds pass was deflected into the front court and knocked out of bounds off of Jakobi Pearson. After a lengthy discussion, the officials put 1.9 seconds on the clock, plenty of time for Fifer, who drained a 3 from the left wing over two defenders at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
"The guy made an incredible shot," Nee said. "But that was my fault, because we should have fouled them before they took the shot."
Any doubts that Pratt's late comeback in regulation would have an after effect on Garden City in the extra session were quickly doused by Spencer, who hit back-to-back hook shots to put the Broncbusters up 80-76. Then, after the Beavers cut it to one on Maschoff's 3-pointer, Spencer broke Pratt's back with his second trey of the night: a line drive jumper from the right corner that hit nothing but net, pushing the brown and gold's lead back to four.
"Traylynn is the future of this program," Nee said. "He is the guy we want to build around for next year. We want him to be what Jamir is to this team right now."
Garden City had five in double figures with Thomas pouring in 15, Hopkins 14 and Pearson 10 in 27 minutes. The Broncbusters shot 48 percent from the floor (28-of-59) and were 22-of-31 from the line.
Fifer scored 25 points for the Beavers, who lost their fifth straight game. Blake Furcron added 18 in the first half, and Demarcus Fisher chipped in 11.
Next up: Garden City vs. Dodge City-4 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app