By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-It was by no means a work of art, but good teams win games when they don't play their best. Wednesday was one of those nights for Patrick Nee's squad.
Tahlik Chavez recorded his fourth 20-point game of the season, Naj Ashley-Emory tallied his first-career double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Garden City overcame a sluggish start to roll past North Platte 96-87 at Conestoga Arena.
"We didn't play very good," Nee said afterwards. "We played sloppy. I thought we shot way too many 3's in the first half."
It also didn't help that Nee suspended three players for violating team rules. Kaleb Favors sat the first 10 minutes of the game, while Traylynn Spencer and Darius Roden were benched for the first half.
"These guys have to learn about the team concept," Nee said. "We had to have other guys step up."
Even without those three, Garden City looked like they were going to run North Platte right out of the gym. Chavez drilled a 3; then converted a three-point play, and Emory hit a pullup to put the Broncbusters up 8-0 four minutes into the game. But the Knights responded, eventually closing the gap to one when Luke Christen buried an elbow jumper to make it 20-19 with 7:04 remaining.
"This game played out just like the one last week against them," Nee said. "I mean it was really sloppy, but I like how we scrapped; especially on the glass."
Even though the Broncbusters stretched the lead back to eight following a 7-0 run late in the first half, they could never shake loose, and after a monster Daishaun Woods' jam put Garden City up by four, it was Tim Johnson draining a 15-foot foul-line jumper to pull North Platte within two, 39-37 at the break.
"The turnovers killed us tonight," Nee added. "And a lot of them came on travels."
The Knights scored 31 points off of 21 Garden City giveaways, a metric that even surprised Nee postgame.
"I was shocked it was that many because a lot of our mistakes were not live-ball turnovers," he said. "But it's so hard to sweep a team during the season."
North Platte gave Garden City all they could handle in the second half.
The Knights scored the first two buckets out of the locker room, taking their first lead of the night on Courtney Murrell's layup following a Broncbuster mistake. In fact, Garden City turned it over on their first two possessions of the second half. In all, North Platte hit the home squad with a 12-2 blitz, and when Christen swished a 14-foot jumper, the Knights had a 47-41 advantage with 17:04 to play.
"They (North Platte) took some stuff away from us that we got the first time," Nee said. "But I like how we hung together and made enough plays, especially when we didn't play our best basketball tonight."
Garden City was not down for long, countering with Emory's 3 and Roden's midrange pullup. Then Favors blew past Murrell on the baseline for a deuce, putting the Broncbusters up 48-47. It was one of six lead changes in the second half.
North Platte again answered, building a five-point lead following Przemyslaw Zygmunciak's trey from the left wing with 12:45 to go. Nee had seen enough.
"I was hoping we learned our lesson from the other night," Nee said. "We let them hang around way too long."
Finally, with less than 10 minutes remaining, Garden City hit North Platte with an emphatic knockout blow. Roden hit a shot, Emory followed with a second-chance bucket; then split a pair of free throws, Roden converted an and-1 layup, and the Broncbusters were up 72-65. Moments later, the freshman swished two free throws, Chavez hit a coldblooded triple before Emory drilled a 3 from the right wing, pushing the home team's lead to 17. It was all part of a 27-7 run that put the game out of reach.
"We need Naj," Nee said. "When we recruited him, we thought he was going to be one of our main dudes. He really stepped up tonight and made some big shots."
Ashley-Emory finished with 17 points and 13 boards, going 6-of-10 from the floor and 3-of-5 from downtown for Garden City. Chavez scored 20 in 26 minutes, nailing five treys, Woods added 17 points, 10 boards and two blocks, Favors had 13, and Roden tallied 11 in just 13 minutes.
Murrell poured in 20 points in 36 minutes for North Platte, who lost their third straight game. Johnson scored 18 and was 10-of-12 at the line.
Next up: Garden City at Odessa-Friday, Nov. 22-6:45 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app