By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Ashley Salazar
Garden City, KS-Patrick Nee has seen this story before.
Nearly a month ago, the Broncbusters first-year coach watched as Northwest Tech took 36 free throws in a 72-64 loss. 30 days later, the Mavericks were at it again, and it came at the expense of Garden City's three-game winning streak.
The Grizzlies hit 31-of-35 at the line (28-of-29 in the second half), Miles Gibson scored 26 points, and Northwest Tech beat the Broncbusters 82-74 Monday afternoon at Conestoga Arena.
"I've never seen a team hit 28 straight free throws in a half," Nee said afterwards. "That's definitely a first."
Garden City's first half was rather uninspiring. The Mavericks built an 11-point lead after Anthony Picott beat two Broncbusters to the rim for an 18-7 advantage with 10:16 left in the opening period.
"We started off poorly again," Nee said. "Northwest Tech came ready to play, and we didn't."
The Broncbusters snapped out of their early malaise with less than six minutes to go in the first half. Jamir Thomas made a layup, Russhard Cruickshank drilled a 3, Thomas rattled in two free throws, Daishaun Woods finished at the basket and Thomas threw down a vicious jam, polishing off a 13-0 run that had Garden City in front 26-24 with 2:04 to play. In all, the Broncbusters outscored the Mavericks 15-2 over the final 5:56 of the half and led 28-26 at the break.
"I don't want to put this all on Jamir because it's not all on him," Nee said. "But when he plays well, we usually win. When he struggles, we usually lose."
Garden City came out firing in the second half, building a five-point lead following Jakobi Pearson's layup with 18:23 to go. But the Broncbusters, like the first meeting, could never pull away. There were six lead changes over the final 20 minutes.
"We can be the best team in the country when we are hitting 3's," Nee said. "We hit 14 of them the other day. But that's not reality to do that in every game."
The Mavericks rendered the Broncbusters long-distance game useless as Garden City missed on 16 of their 22 3-point attempts. They finished the game shooting just 43 percent (27-of-63).
But the great equalizer in this one was once again the charity stripe where the Mavericks outscored the Broncbusters by 17 points. Northwest Tech shot 18 more three throws than Garden City in just the second half.
"It's disappointing to look at those numbers," Nee said. "It really is."
Thomas connected on a 3-pointer with 5:47 remaining, giving Garden City their final lead, 62-61. From there, Northwest Tech grabbed the game by the throat. Brandon Conwright hit a jump shot followed by Gibson's three-point play. That was the prelude to one of the best free-throw shooting exhibitions this season as the Mavericks hit 11-of-12 over the final 4:18 to ice the game away. They made 28 straight freebies before Jay Ebon clanged one off the rim with 26 seconds on the clock as Northwest Tech closed the game on a 21-13 run.
Conwright played all 40 minutes for the Mavericks, scoring 21 points on 5-of-8 from downtown. Chris Freeman chipped in 13 and Ebon had 10 points and seven boards.
Thomas poured in 25 points and pulled down eight rebounds for Garden City. Cruickshank added 16, but was just 4-of-17 from the field and 2-of-11 from 3.
Next up: Garden City at Colby-Wednesday, Feb. 20-7:30 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app