By Mike Pilosof
Photos by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-There's no way on earth that anyone, not even Omega Tandy, could have envisioned the game of the year taking place in her own gym on Saturday. A team that started 12-0 vs. a Broncbuster squad still trying to find consistency.
But what do any of us know, right?
Jayden Marlnee poured in a career-high 31 points and pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds, Teagan Brouwer scored 18 before fouling out in the second half, and Cowley outlasted Garden City 112-111 in a triple-overtime thriller Saturday afternoon at Conestoga Arena.
"This was a fun game to coach in," Tandy said afterwards. "Cowley is a great team, and I feel we proved to ourselves that we can play with teams like that."
Tandy isn't into morale victories at all; no coach is. But a team that appeared to sputter out of the gates in conference play, gave one of their most inspired efforts of the season; even in a losing effort.
For most of the day, the Broncbusters proved to have the upper hand. After falling down by five early, Jaleah Bellany completed a four-point play, Donetria McGee hit back-to-back layups, and Alyssa Boyce sliced to the rim, capping off a 12-0 run that had Garden City up 15-8 with 4:43 to play in the first. They were up three after one.
"A game like this shows me that we are definitely growing," Tandy said. "I'm excited to get back in the gym on Wednesday."
Tyla Happer's two buckets two minutes into the second, stretched the Broncbusters' lead to nine. Then, after Cowley fought back to cut it to three, Hidaya Thornton put back a missed Boyce 3-pointer, Deborah Ford banked home a pair of bunnies, and Garden City had a 35-24 edge with 3:53 to play in the first half. They were up eight going into the locker room.
"We're learning how to respond," Tandy said. "That's the key. To finish games, we have to deal with adversity a little bit. I feel like we are getting better."
While the Broncbusters had a terrific offensive showing, their defense stifled the Tigers through two and a half quarters. They turned 25 Cowley turnovers into 30 points. They recorded 10 steals, and held the Tigers' leading scorer, Seanna Boltz scoreless in the first half.
Meantime, McGee finished off a nifty and-1, Dasja Ross knocked down a line-drive triple, and Garden City was feeling good, up 13, 61-48 with 2:33 to play in the third.
"When I look back on this game, it's pretty simple: we have to make free throws," Tandy said. "We were 28-of-40 at the line. Those are points that we left on the table."
All of the sudden, the well dried up. Garden City was held without a field goal over the final 2:30 of the third. At the same time, Cowley made their run, and it all started with a Milenna Fromming layup, followed by Boltz's first field goal of the day: a 3-pointer from the right wing that cut the Broncbusters' lead to eight. Moments later, Boltz struck again, this time from the top of the key before Kalyne Daniels hit 1-of-2 free throws to polish off an 11-4 run that trimmed the brown and gold's lead to just five, 64-59 going to the fourth.
"If we did the little things today, like hit free throws, I think we win this game going away," Tandy said. "I don't think this goes into overtime."
The Tigers kept coming in the final period, knotting the score at 67 when Fromming beat Ross off the bounce. Boltz followed with a trey, and Cowley was up 70-67.
The score stayed that way for nearly two minutes before McGee stole the ball away from Fromming. In transition Ross got the ball back in McGee's hands, and the freshman delivered with a game-tying triple.
"Our defense continues to get better," Tandy said. "When we can play defense and get out and run, we are pretty good. "I thought we did a good job of that today."
And her team delivered with a plethora of big shots down the stretch.
Trailing by one with just over 30 seconds remaining, Happer drilled 3-pointer from the left corner to put the Broncbusters up 82-80. But the celebration was doused when Dashanae Pajeaud fouled Brouwer. The freshman post from Canada, calmly sank two free throws, and Bellany turned the ball over in the final seconds, sending the game into overtime.
"This game showed us that we should haven't lost to Allen and Cloud," Tandy added. "We just have to keep looking forward."
Things looked pretty dire for Garden City once they fell down by seven in the first overtime following Shontrice Austin's finger roll. But the Broncbusters quickly answered. Bellany hit three free throws after being fouled shooting a triple, Ford split a pair of freebies, and Happer hit a 30-foot bomb at the shot-clock buzzer to even the score at 93. After Marlnee put Cowley back in front, Bellany was fouled with two seconds left. The freshman hit both free throws, pushing this one into a second extra session.
That's when things really got nuts.
Garden City was clinging to a three-point edge with six seconds on the clock. Cowley had to go the length of the floor. Instead of fouling, which would have sent the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference to the line, Tandy played it out. But the first-year coach was burned when Daniels drained a 3 from the left wing pushing the game into a third overtime.
"No excuses, but I don't think our legs were there late in the game," Tandy said. "Some of these girls played more than 40 minutes."
In triple OT, Marlnee beat Ford down the left-lane for a layup, putting the Tigers in front 112-111 with 14 seconds. Still, Garden City had a chance. But that went out the window once Happer missed a 25-foot triple from the right wing. The Ball caromed off the right rim out of bounds, Cowley ran out the clock, and the Broncbusters dropped to 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 2006.
"It was a great game," Tandy said. "We have to learn how to win these types of games. And we will."
Bellany scored a career-high 32 points for Garden City before fouling out in overtime. She logged 40 minutes. McGee scored a season-best 20 points in 28 minutes off the bench, Ford added 15, and Ross tallied 10 while tying a season-high with seven assists.
Marlnee was incredibly efficient, finishing 8-of-9 from the field and 15-of-16 at the line in 45 minutes. Brouwer scored eight of her 18 points in the third quarter, Daniels chipped in 17, and Fromming had 13 and seven dimes.
Next up: Garden City vs. Coffeyville-Wednesday, Dec. 11-5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app