By BRETT MARSHALL
There were so many different reasons for the Garden City Buffaloes to play a good basketball game on Tuesday at the New Garden.
The Western Athletic Conference matchup with Liberal was the final regular season game. It was Senior Night. And, not to mention it, the Buffs were playing with a chance to still nail down the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Class 6A sub-state tournament which begins on Feb. 28.
Throw in trying to end a mini, two-game losing streak, and coach Jacy Holloway was looking for a different outcome.
And he got it in the form of a resounding 63-34 shellacking of the Redskins. It was in stark contrast to the 63-60 overtime win in Liberal on Jan. 8 for the Buffs.
The Buffs conclude the regular season with a 13-7 overall record and were 4-4 in the WAC, a likely third-place finish, but an outside chance at a tie for second after Hays lost to Dodge City, 53-36, on Tuesday night. The 13 wins represent the most by a Buffs’ team since the 2002 team went 15-9 en route to a third-place finish at the 6A state tournament.
“We had great energy and our warmup was great,” a smiling Holloway said afterward. “I usually don’t watch the kids in warmups, but I did tonight. The kids were focused, they had high energy, and the seniors did a good job.”
The four seniors who got the traditional starting nod aren’t always in the lineup at the same time, so it was important from Holloway’s standpoint that the group of Denton Keller, Austin Terpstra, Evan Riggs and Bo Banner got off to a good start.
After a few shaky moments at the game’s outset, the Buffs did just that.
With the game knotted at 8-8 with less than three minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the Buffs finished the period off on a 10-3 run, with all seniors doing the scoring.
Banner knocked down a short jumper, Terpstra hit a driving layup from the baseline, Banner drilled a 3-pointer and Keller hit a buzzer-beating bank shot trey as time expired for the 18-11 lead.
That seemed to ignite the Buffs, as they went from a 20-15 early second-period lead to a 32-17 halftime bulge, this time getting balanced scoring from five different players.
“I thought they played to their strengths during the second quarter,” Holloway said. “We’ve had our struggles in that quarter for a good part of the season. I told them not to do any crazy things, don’t force things and I think for the most part they did just that.”
Midway through the third quarter, the Buffs seemed to hit a lull, and the Redskins crawled to within 10 at 33-23 at the 4:27 mark. But Caleb Tramp hit a short bank shot right after, and then added in what can only be described as a thunder dunk on a breakaway. That seemed to electrify the crowd and the bench, and from there the Buffs rolled.
“Haven’t heard it that loud all season,” Holloway said after the dunk by Tramp, a 6-5 sophomore post player. “It’s the first time in eight years that I think we’ve had a dunk in a game, so it was really a huge deal. In most games, it’s not a big deal, but when you haven’t seen one in so long, it was only for a short minute, but I really thought it got us going.”
From that point on, the Buffs finished off the quarter with a 10-5 edge to take command at 47-28. Liberal was never closer than 18 in the final period and the 29-point final margin was the Buffs’ biggest of the night.
Eleven of the 12 players who got into the game scored, with Tristan Nanninga’s 13 leading the way. Tramp added 12 and Hunter Delgado chipped in with 10. Trenton Hammonds had 14 to lead Liberal.
The Buffs dominated the stats sheet as well. They hit 24-of-40 field goals for a sizzling 60 percent and were perfect from behind the arc at 5-of-5. They won the rebounding battle, 34-25, as Tramp pulled down a game-high nine boards. They did turn the ball over 15 times, but forced Liberal in 17 miscues.
“I thought there was a lot of pressure on us before the game,” Holloway said. “The two-game losing streak was the first time that had happened all year and you don’t want a three-game streak to end the regular season. We hadn’t played well the last two games, so we need to stop the downslide.”
Now comes the waiting game and the official bracket pairings for the 6A sub-state.
A Dodge City over Liberal result on Friday will put the Buffs into the No. 3 seed behind top-seeded Wichita North and the Red Demons.
After Tuesday night’s results, it is likely that the Buffs will play host on Feb. 28 to either Maize or Wichita Northwest, which are just a game apart for the season at 7-12 and 8-11. Dodge would have the tiebreaker with the Buffs thanks to two wins over Garden during the regular season, and they will likely host either Campus or South, both of whom have just two wins, with South’s regular season finished.
On the other side of the bracket in a separate four-team sub-state, North will face either Campus or South with Hutchinson (10-9) likely hosting either Northwest or Maize, again depending on Friday’s outcomes.
Liberal 11 6 11 6 — 34
Garden City 18 14 15 16 — 63
Liberal (34) — Lewis 3-8 1-2 7, Frazier 0-1 0-0 0, Stout 0-8 3-4 3, Ross 2-6 1-1 6, Fitzgerald 0-1 0-0 0, Hammonds 5-6 4-11 14, Paz 0-1 0-0 0, Abbott 2-4 0-5 4, Hasik 0-3 0-0 0, Coker 0-2 0-0 0, Begley 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 12-42 9-23 34.
Garden City (63) — Delgado 4-4 0-0 10, Riggs 0-0 0-0 0, Hernandez 1-2 0-0 3, Nanninga 4-8 5-6 13, Olivas 0-0 1-2 1, Banner 2-7 1-2 6, Keller 1-2 1-4 4, Terpstra 2-2 2-2 6, Parr 2-2 0-0 4, Love 1-2 0-0 2, Koster 0-0 0-2 0, Rodriguez 1-1 0-0 2, Tramp 6-10 0-1 12. Totals 24-40 10-19 63.
3-point goals—Liberal 1-14 (Frazier 0-, Stout 0-6, Ross 1-2, Fitzgerlad 0-1, Paz 0-1, Begley 0-3), Garden City 5-5 (Delgado 2-2, Hernandez 1-1, Banner 1-1, Keller 1-1). Rebounds—Liberal 25 (Abbott 7), Garden City 34 (Tramp 9). Turnovers—Liberal 17, Garden City 15. Fouls—Liberal 18, Garden City 20. Fouled out—none.