By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Obviously no one knows exactly how the next three weeks will play out for Garden City. But this much is true: when they're fully engaged, they're as good as anyone in the league. Saturday was more proof of that.
Russhard Cruickshank scored 25 points, R.J. Pair knocked down a season-high five 3's, and the Broncbusters ran past rival Dodge City 96-74 at Conestoga Arena.
"We still aren't there yet," Garden City Coach Patrick Nee said afterwards. "But we are playing really well. We just have to keep taking it one game at a time."
The Broncbusters shot 56 percent from the field (38-of-68), knocked down a season best 14-of-25 from downtown (56 percent) and totaled 20 assists-the sixth time this season they've had 20 or more.
"I didn't think we played that well in the first half," Nee said. "But the second half was a different story."
Despite an uneven first 20 minutes, the Broncbusters controlled the first half, building an eight-point lead on Jakobi Pearson's triple from the right corner with 5:38 to go. After Dodge City cut the deficit to three, Jaleel Simmons threw a perfect lob pass to Jamir Thomas, who plucked the ball out of the sky and laid it in softly while taking a shot to his shoulder. The sophomore completed the three-point play, and Cruickshank drilled a trey, putting garden City up 43-37 at the intermission.
"I knew, at some point, Russhard was going to come out of it," Nee said. "He's taking better shots, and the results are much better."
Dodge City kept things close early in the second half, tying the game at 48 once Laurence Bryant nailed his second triple of the final period.
From there, it was all Garden City.
The Broncbusters blew the game open with a 10-0 run, fueled by Thomas and Cruickshank both draining long balls to put the Broncbusters up 67-55 with 10:49 remaining. Pair splashed home a 3 to stretch the lead to 15 before Simmons rocked the rim with a tomahawk jam. The freshman guard followed with a layup, and Pair connected on another deep ball, finishing off a 13-4 blitz that put Garden City on top 90-70. They built that lead to as many as 25 when Pair hit his final 3 of the game, making it 96-71 in the final minute.
"I want this team to win six in a row going into the postseason," Nee said. "These guys know the scenarios. We've talked about it, and right now, we are still positioning ourselves for what's ahead. We can't get ahead of ourselves because there is still plenty of work that needs to be done."
Nee tinkered with his rotation in the second half, using a second unit of Claiborne Kyles, Pair, Simmons, Woods and Cheikh Kebe. And the results were positive. Simmons scored eight points, Pair netted 15, Kebe pulled down nine rebounds and had an emphatic put-back slam, and Kyles hit a 3.
"I don't normally like to sub five in and five out," Nee said. "But I wanted to let these guys know that we can't slip up at all."
Thomas filled up the box score, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and a block for Garden City, who won their third straight game.
Justice Dixon led the way for Dodge City with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Jyrus Feels, the conference's leading scorer, tallied 17 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up: Garden City vs. Northwest Tech-Monday, Feb. 18-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app