By Mike Pilosof
North Platte, NE-Who knows what Patrick Nee said to his team at halftime, but whatever it was, the Broncbusters looked like a completely different squad over the final 20 minutes on Wednesday night.
Tahlik Chavez scored 14 of his team-best 22 points in the second half, Darius Roden added 15, and Garden City erased a 13-point deficit to beat North Platte 86-79 at McDonald-Belton Gymnasium. The Broncbusters finished their three-game road trip 2-1.
"If you would have told me back in August that we'd go 2-1 on this trip, I thought you'd be lying," Nee said after the game. "Otero was obviously the best of the three, but this was another good test for us."
Just 48 hours earlier, the Broncbusters were caught sleep walking through the first half against 17th-ranked Otero. The end result: they fell down by as many as 19; stormed back to take a two-point lead in the second half before ultimately running out of gas. Ironically, the first 20 minutes on Wednesday, was almost a carbon copy of that performance.
Garden City was totally out of sink in the first half, turning the ball over 15 times. The other issue was Courtney Murrell, who made one contested basket after another. His pullup jumper with just over 14 minutes to go, put the Knights up 16-7, forcing Nee to call a timeout.
"We just didn't play very well to start the game," Nee said. "I think our guys overlooked them, and that's my fault."
Murrell added two free throws and a left-handed layup following a blown two-on-one break by Garden City, DaVonte Tharp swished two free throws, and Przemyslaw Zygmunciak turned a Broncbuster giveaway into a step-back 3 to put North Platte up 39-26 with just over two minutes to go in the half.
"Coach (Kevin) O'Connor is a big-time coach," Nee said. "He really made us work against his stuff. They had us off balance for a little while."
Garden City though found their stride late in the opening period. Chavez drilled a deep 3 from the left wing, Daishaun Woods converted a second-chance bucket, Roden sliced to the rim, Naj Ashley-Emory drilled a short jumper, and Chavez made two free throws to pull the Broncbusters within eight at the break, 39-31.
"I'll tell you this, if it wasn't for Traylynn (Spencer), we may have been down 30 at the half," Nee said. "He knew exactly what to say to his teammates to fire them up. And it worked."
Yes it did, and in the second half, Garden City kept their foot firmly on the accelerator. Chavez dropped in another long triple, Emory beat his man off the bounce for an easy deuce, Chavez swished a 3 from the corner, and the Broncbusters were within two, 43-41. After the teams exchanged baskets, Emory tied it with a midrange jumper before Chavez's transition layup gave the Broncbusters their first lead since the opening minute.
"All four games this season we have really been clicking in the second half," Nee explained. "And that was the case again tonight."
Whatever shooting and turnover woes Garden City experienced in the first half were wiped away and replaced with a smooth offensive attack predicated on one specific principle.
"I told our guys to just get to the rim," Nee said. "I kind of got out of my own way after halftime."
While the Broncbusters continued to assault the Knights in the paint, Woods and Chavez owned the perimeter, each knocking down a trey before Chavez sprinted coast-to-coast for a layup that had the Broncbusters up four, 57-53 with 11:14 to play. Roden added a beautiful finish moments later, Kaleb Favors dropped in a right-handed layup on the left side of the basket, and Garden City extended the lead to six. They also got some help from Luke Christen, who missed three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt. In fact, the Knights clanged five charity shots while the brown and gold made their run.
"I can sit here and make a bunch of excuses for this team for how we started the game," Nee said. "But I'm not going to. All I can say is that we scored 55 points in the second half. That's Garden City basketball."
The Broncbusters pushed the lead to as many as 10 with less than two minutes remaining after Roden dropped a perfect dime to Chavez for a layup followed by Roden grabbing his own miss and sticking it back home. The freshman also added a clutch free throw down the stretch, and Garden City completed their biggest comeback of the season.
Chavez knocked down four 3's for the Broncbusters. Spencer scored 14, and Favors and Emory each added 11.
Murrell paced the knights with 21.
Next up: Garden City vs. Lamar, Mon. Nov. 18-6:45 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app