By Mike Pilosof
Photo by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-There's a scene in the movie 'He Got Game' where Ray Allen, who played as the five-star recruit Jesus Shuttlesworth, told his defender, if you reach, I'll teach. Moments later, Shuttlesworth spun baseline and jammed the ball.
With the game tied in the waning seconds Monday night, freshman Mason Osborne learned a valuable lesson: don't reach. And while Brayton Williams didn't teach, referee Jason Johnson sure did. The veteran official blew his whistle, sending Williams to the line where the sophomore hit 1-of-2 free throws, and Lamar edged Garden City 81-80 at Conestoga Arena.
"To be honest, should you call that with 15 minutes to go, probably," Head Coach Patrick Nee said afterwards. "But in that situation, it really didn't affect the play. But it is what it is."
Truth be told, that one play was costly, but it wasn't the only reason Garden City lost the game. The Broncbusters were outrebounded by 11 and surrendered 15 offensive boards that led to 21 second-chance points for the Lopes. Then there was Williams and his backcourt mate Oscar Maldnoado, who combined to score 51 points on 10-of-15 from downtown.
"That guy (Maldonado) had a career night," Nee said. "He played really well."
Maldonado finished the job, but it was Williams who started it. With Lamar reeling a bit in the early stages of the first half, playing in their fourth game in six nights, the sophomore guard kept the Lopes afloat. After the Broncbusters built an early 15-7 lead following the 11th Lamar turner that led to a Darius Roden layup, Williams went off, drilling three straight 3's, igniting an 14-0 run that put Lamar up 21-15 with 11:28 to go until halftime.
"We just kept giving them chance after chance," Nee said. "You can't do that."
Garden City fought back to take a 25-23 advantage on Naj Ashley-Emory's pullup jumper with 6:09 to play. But again, the Lopes responded. Maldonado and Peter Turay converted on second-chance opportunities before Maldonado banked home an and-1 layup, putting Lamar up 33-29 at the half.
"Every time we had a chance to put them away, we didn't make a play," Nee said.
In the second half, the Broncbusters blitzed the Lopes with a combination of pressure man-to-man and traps, stymying their attack and getting Garden City back in the game. Tahlik Chavez knifed his way to the rim, Traylynn Spencer stole the ball and coasted in for a two-handed jam; then threw a dart from the right wing to the left block where Steven Samuels caught it and flushed it with two hands, putting Garden City on top 56-51 with 11 minutes remaining.
"We played well on offense at times," Nee said. "Other times, I thought we were in a hurry."
It didn't take Lamar long to answer. After the slam, Maldonado drifted to the left wing and buried a triple. A couple of possessions later, the sophomore from Greely, Colo., nailed an elbow jumper before splashing in back-to-back 3-pointers, erasing the Broncbusters seven-point advantage. Then, with the game tied at 65, Jordan Wilson connected on a pullup before Williams banged home a triple, giving the Lopes a 70-65 cushion with 5:18 to play.
"We turned it over; we missed a few free throws, you just can't do that against a team like that," Nee said. "We hurt ourselves down the stretch."
Trailing 78-73 with two minutes to go, the Broncbusters slowly chipped away. Roden hit a reverse layup, Daishaun Woods and Spencer split a pair of free throws, and Garden City was within three. Then a little divine intervention as Wilson inexplicably drove to the basket and stepped out of bounds, giving the Broncbusters the ball back.
"We had some options at the end of the game," Nee added.
One of those was Spencer, who on several occasions during their first four games, Nee has called his most important player. Well, the sophomore delivered again, hitting a step-back 3 from the right wing to knot the game at 80.
Unfortunately the celebration was short lived. Following a timeout, Lamar Head Coach Rian Stubbs put the ball in Williams' hands. The sophomore darted to the right wing before veering to his right. As he blew past Osborne, the freshman reached around, forcing Johnson's hand to call the foul. Williams hit the first free throw; then missed the second, giving Garden City one more chance.
"We have practiced that play a lot," Nee said. "It's something that I've used in the past."
With 3.6 on the clock and 94 feet to cover, Kaleb Favors zipped a pass to the left sideline for Spencer, who immediately fired the ball ahead into the front court. But Wilson read the play perfectly, sagged back, and intercepted the pass, ending the game.
"I mean we could have called a timeout when Tray caught the ball," Nee said. "But we've used that play before, and it was successful."
The loss spoiled a terrific night for Spencer, who poured in 19 points, dished out five assists and pulled down nine rebounds in 29 minutes. Favors added 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and Roden tallied 14 and four boards.
Maldonado scored a season-high 26 points for Lamar, who won for the fifth time in their last six games after starting the season 0-4. Williams chipped in 25 on 9-of-13 shooting.
"This was a good test for us; it was like a conference game," Nee said. "This is what we wanted. These games will only make us better."
Next up: Garden City vs. North Platte, Wednesday, Nov. 20-6:45 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app