By Mike Pilosof
Liberal, KS-Garden City keeps putting themselves into position to win games. But they haven't quite figured out how to finish them.
And it happened again on Monday night.
Rostyslav Novitskyi poured in a career-high 20 points, Greg Johnson chipped in 14 and four rebounds, and Seward County escaped with a 78-73 victory at The Greenhouse. It was the Broncbusters sixth straight loss-their longest skid since 2017.
"We are trying to get out of this," Head Coach Patrick Nee said afterwards. "We're trying to get over the hump. But at the end of the day, we keep making critical mistakes that are hurting us at key times."
Just like their two previous games, the Broncbusters had stretches of brilliance where the ball was hopping around, screens were being set off the ball, and player movement was as crisp and sharp as it's been all season. But more often than not, that was the exception; not the rule. The rest of the game was replaced with disjointed offense, turnovers and inexplicable fouls that in the end, cost Garden City in a building where they have only won twice in the past 13 years.
"This is extremely frustrating," Nee explained. "We've had leads in most of these games. We've had opportunities in most of these games. And when you really look back it, I think we had a good chance of being 5-2 instead of where we are at."
Garden City quickly erased an early four-point deficit with a 10-0 run, fueled by sharpshooter Tahlik Chavez, who buried back-to-back treys followed by Kaleb Favors fourth triple of the season that put the Broncbusters up by six. A few minutes later, Boise State-transfer Michael Frazier converted consecutive second-chance buckets, and Garden City was rolling up nine, 21-12 with 10:55 to go in the half.
"It's the simple things," Nee added. "We're getting the ball in good spots, but we're just not converting. We're right where we need to be, but it's frustrating because we can't get over the hump."
And boy did that nine-point lead dissipate in a hurry.
Novitskyi swished two free throws; then finished off a beautiful three-point play, Surakata Jawara grabbed an offensive rebound before laying the ball in softly off the glass, and Ramiro Santiago hit a wing 3, polishing off an 11-0 surge that had the Saints in front 28-23 with 6:01 to play until halftime. That lead swelled to eight once Jawara swished a pair or free throws, making it 33-25.
"I think our guys get going, and then they start to lose focus," Nee said. "We have to get them to maintain that focus the entire game."
As they did early in the first half, Garden City stormed back again, scoring 11 straight points. And when Kaleb Favors beat Stephen Takyi for a two-handed layup in the final seconds, the Broncbusters were up 38-37 heading to the locker room.
Then Seward lowered the boom on the road squad to begin the second half. Greg Johnson and Samuel Henderson knocked down midrange jumpers, Branton McCrary nailed a 3-pointer, and Seward was up eight. They pushed that to 11 just four minutes into the period following two free throws by Takyi.
"We have no time to feel sorry for ourselves," Nee said. "This league is really hard."
Garden City answered the bell again, and Naj Ashley-Emory's sensational finish in traffic pulled the Broncbusters within one, 56-55 with 11:30 remaining. After Seward built the lead back to eight, Chavez got loose for a 3 from the left wing. Then it was Frazier connecting on a long ball from deep on the right side before Chavez shook off Santiago for a spectacular three-point play that put had the Broncbusters up 73-72 with 1:57 to go.
That's when Garden City went silent.
Traylynn Spencer picked up a careless fifth foul, Jawara and Takyi combined to go 4-of-4 at the line down the stretch, and Favors threw the ball away with his team down three with 12 seconds to play, as the Broncbusters lost for just the second time this season when leading at the half.
Seward County finished 33-of-40 at the stripe, marking the seventh time this year that the Saints shot 30 or more in a game. Novitskyi was an efficient 6-of-8 from the floor, and Takyi chipped in 10 off the bench. Incredibly, the Saints went the final 5:01 of the game without a field goal.
Chavez notched his eighth 20-point game of the season with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting for Garden City. He drilled five triples, the sixth time he's hit five or more in a game this year. Frazier totaled a season-high 16 points, and Spencer had 15.
Next up: Garden City vs. Hutchinson-Wednesday, Jan. 15-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app