By Mike Pilosof
Chanute, KS-The Broncbusters once promising start has been replaced by a five-game losing streak, one that had second-year coach Patrick Nee searching for answers afterwards.
Jonathan Breeland poured in 21 points in 38 minutes, Jae-Min Yang added 18 and 11 rebounds, and Neosho pushed past Garden City 72-67 Wednesday night at Panther Gymnasium.
"It's just another game where our energy just wasn't there," Nee said. "We have to find better ways to create energy."
The Panthers improved to 7-1 at home this season while the Broncbusters dropped to 3-5 away from Conestoga Arena.
"They hit us with a couple of runs, and it totally drained us," Nee explained.
Almost identical to Saturday night, the Broncbusters had a feel-good first five minutes. Tahlik Chavez drained two 3-pointers and beat Corbett Kimberlin to the rim for a layup, Daishaun Woods hit a floater in the paint, and Garden City was up 11-2. That, in a nutshell, summed up the good for Garden City in the first half. The rest of the way, it was all Neosho.
The Panthers countered with a 14-0 run. Australian Daniel Titus sank a triple, Torey Cargo hit a 25-foot bomb, and Breeland rattled home a contested, double-clutch layup over Darius Roden, putting Neosho up 16-11 halfway through the period.
"Every game, it seems like every time a team makes a run, we drop our heads a little bit," Nee said. "I think we are going to be okay. This league is really tough."
Garden City kept within striking distance, and Steven Samuels powerful two-handed flush along the left baseline brought the Broncbuster bench to life with 4:38 remaining. But Neosho quickly doused any run. Breeland beat Samuels off the bounce for a finger roll, Remy Lemovou hit a midrange pullup, and Yang drained two free throws to put the Panthers on top 30-23 at the intermission.
"We just have to stop being one of these teams that when the ball goes through the basket, all of the sudden plays harder," Nee said. "It has to be the other way around; especially when you're struggling offensively."
In the second half, the game got away from Garden City in the blink of an eye. With the Broncbusters down six, Chol Adup splashed home a 3 for Neosho. Yang followed with a longball from the left corner, and Cargo drifted to his left before sticking a triple from the top of the key, polishing off an 11-0 surge that had the Panthers up 56-39 with 11:08 to play.
"We have to find ways to shrink down these runs," Nee added. "We're still learning how to use Mikey (Michael Frazier), and we didn't have Kyler (Lamb) tonight."
Once his team fell down 17, Nee shortened his rotation and brought in backup point guard Derrick Bryant. The move definitely paid off.
The freshman guard woke up a sleeping giant, first nailing a 3 from the top of the key. A couple of possessions later, Bryant buried another triple from the right wing, Mason Osborne swished a corner 3, Bryant knocked down a baseline floater, and Traylynn Spencer fed Osborne for a reverse layup, polishing off a 10-0 run and cutting the once double-digit deficit down to four, 60-56 with 5:03 remaining.
"Our energy was definitely up when we made that run," Nee said. "But we can't keep falling down by 17 or 20 points and expect to come back. We've run out of gas a couple of times."
After Neosho stretched the lead back to five, Osborne responded with a 3 from the left corner. Once Breeland missed a jumper on the other end, Garden City had a chance to take their first lead of the half. But Chavez, who started the game 3-for-3, missed 12 of his final 13 shots, including a triple from the left corner with 3:14 on the clock. That was followed by a missed shot clock violation on Neosho, which resulted on Lemovou's second-chance bucket that put the Panthers up 67-62.
"There's nothing you can do when that happens," Nee said. "We just tell the guys to move forward. Calls like that are going to happen."
Down five, Kaleb Favors sank five free throws in the final minute to give the Broncbusters a chance. Then, trailing 70-67 after Yang splashed home two freebies for the Panthers, Garden City got the look they wanted when Bryant forced the Panthers to over rotate towards the left wing. Instead of forcing a shot, the freshman whipped it up top to Osborne, who had his cleanest look of the night. But unfortunately the ball rimmed in and out. Spencer was called for a loose ball foul, Adup knocked down two free throws with four seconds remaining, and just like that, the game was over.
"Right now, it seems like we just can't win a game," Nee said. "We need to change that and win one, so we can get the feeling that we can't lose. It's been frustrating, but we are still figuring some things out."
Adup finished with 11 points for Neosho, which shot 54 percent from the field. Cargo chipped in 10 but had a team-high seven turnovers.
Spencer scored 12 of his team-best 13 points in the second half for Garden City, which included his own 6-0 run to begin the second half. Osborne poured in a season-high 10, and Chavez added 10, but was just 4-of-14 from the field.
Next up: Garden City vs. Butler-Saturday, Jan. 11-4 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app