By BRETT MARSHALL
LEOTI — Both Wichita County and Greeley County were confident heading into Tuesday's night basketball game.
The Indians, fresh off the Hi-Plains League championship Saturday in Garden City, and the Jackrabbits, riding a nine-game winning streak and the recent champion of the Western Kansas Liberty League tournament, came in with plenty of swagger.
For awhile that swagger carried the Indians to what seemed like a safe 13-point lead two minutes into the third quarter only to fall prey to a tough Jackrabbit defense that resulted in a 57-46 victory for Greeley County. The Jackrabbits led with just 29 seconds left in the game, and cashed in on 7-of-8 free throws to seal the win. Wichita County committed 20 turnovers to just seven for the Jackrabbits.
"Bottom line, we just didn't play very smart in the second half," Wichita County coach Matt Crist said. "We played hard and played smart in the first half, and most important, we played smart. We executed our offense to a tee and our guys just played solid. The second half was a reverse of that."
Despite allowing a 13-point advantage evaporate over the final 6:13 of the third quarter, the Indians were still on top 38-37 just 12 seconds into the final period. Greeley County (12-1) moved in front 42-38 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Indians hung close and were within two with 1:11 left.
But Jackrabbit senior Isaac Wilson, who led Greeley County with 20 points (5-of-9 from 3-point range), hit one bucket with 53 seconds to play before hitting 1-of-2 free throws to make it 50-45 with 34.8 seconds showing. Watson McKinney made the second of two charities with 29 seconds left to cut the margin to four, 50-46, but that was as close as it would get.
For Jackrabbits coach Jeff Starkey, the game was critical to assess where his team is at just past the mid-point of the season.
"That's as good as any team we will have played this year," Starkey said of the Indians. "They've improved since December (a 53-38 Greeley County win at the Scott City Invitational). They made us do some things we typically don't do and the game will show what we need to work on to get better. We've been making some silly decisions and most of the teams in our league we can get by with it, but not tonight.
"(Wichita County) made a bunch of threes in the first half (five) and we did a better job guarding the perimeter in the second. One of the things we wanted to do was to make it difficult for Trae (Bremer) to get the ball down low. I thought our backside help was really good in the second half."
Bremer, who grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, was held to just eight points and six shots. Harkness, though, kept the Indians in the game as he finished with a game-high 24 points (4-of-7 from 3-point range) and was 9-of-15 from the field.
"We've got to take a lesson from this and not let other things affect the way we play," Crist said. "The kids are hurting and aren't happy. This is a rivalry game and we haven't beaten them for a while. We were confident and I think it showed in the first half. I hate to lose a game like this but it's no time to sulk. We've got two days to deal with this in practice and get ready for Friday night."
The Indians (9-4) will get a quick rematch with Southwestern Heights then when they travel to Plains to face the Mustangs in a Hi-Plains League contest. Greeley County (12-1) will be on the road to Triplains on Friday night in a Western Kansas Liberty League encounter.
Greeley Co. 57, Wichita Co. 46
GREELEY COUNTY (12-1) — Miller 5-15 5-11 15, Nemechek 2-2 0-0 4, Valdez 0-0 0-0 0, A. Wilson 1-3 2-4 4, Robertson 0-0 0-0 0, Houston 1-8 4-6 6, K. Schneider 2-8 4-4 8, I. Wilson 6-13 3-5 20. Totals 17-46 18-30 57.
WICHITA COUNTY (9-4) — Mehl 0-2 0-0 0, McKinney 2-10 3-4 8, Harkness 9-15 2-2 24, Fletcher 0-1 0-0 0, Martinez 2-6 0-0 6, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Weilert 0-2 0-0 0, Bremer 4-6 0-1 8. Totals 17-42 5-7 46.
Greeley Co. 11 8 18 20 -- 57
Wichita Co. 11 18 6 11 -- 46
3-point goals — Greeley Co. 5-12 (Miller 0-1, Houston 0-2, I. Wilson 5-9), Wichita Co. 7-15 (McKinney 1-4, Harkness 4-7, Martinez 2-2, Bremer 0-2). Rebounds — Greeley Co. 32 (Miller 9), Wichita Co.32 (Bremer 13). Turnovers — Greeley Co. 7, Wichita Co. 20. Fouls — Greeley Co. 10, Wichita Co. 22. Fouled out — Wichita Co. (Weilert). Technical fouls — Wichita County bench.