By BRETT MARSHALL
It has sometimes been said that all good things come to those who wait.
On Tuesday night at The Garden, the wait for the Ulysses Tigers boys basketball team, specifically its senior class, was finally over.
Four seasons of growing from freshmen to now seniors, the Tigers once-youth corps have finally grown up.
That's what happened when the Tigers knocked off the Garden City Buffaloes, 36-33, and produced the first win over their Class 6A southwest Kansas rival in Jason Jones' four-year tenure as the Ulysses coach.
Jacob Mendoza's steal and ensuing layup with 2:13 to play provided what proved to be the winning points, but the Buffs couldn't come up with any points in the final 3:03 after taking a 33-30 lead on Jake Curran's 3-point basket.
"Two years, we've been beaten at the buzzer, so it's really satisfying to get this one," Jones said after the game. "It's been fun to see these kids grow. I'm really proud of them. We've got two of them on the bench (Braden Langston and Josh Jarnagin out with injuries) and we've had to have others step in and step up into the rotation."
Jones, who started many of these seniors as freshman, had watched his team lose big his first season to Garden City (75-50) and then follow up with two nail-biters the past two seasons (56-54 and 38-36).
"We've had our share of being on the other end, it's nice to come out on top of one of these," an elated Jones said.
The Buffs had plenty of opportunities to retake the lead, but just couldn't find the right combination and they had two critical turnovers in the final two minutes.
"This loss was more than just about the final plays of the game," said Garden City coach Jacy Holloway. "This happened because of the mental mindset they came to the gym with earlier. A lot of guys, not coaches, overlooked Ulysses. Right now, we're not a mentally tough team. We're an immature — a very immature — team and it showed tonight."
Down the stretch, the only big plays that the Buffs came up with were produced by sophomore reserve Tristan Nanninga. The 6-0 guard had two blocked shots, one on a potential breakaway layup by Mendoza with 1:42 to play that kept the Buffs within one. He then stole a pass and bounced it off a Ulysses player's leg out-of-bounds to provide the Buffs another opportunity to regain the lead with 18.2 seconds to play.
But the Ulysses defense, combined with the Buffs' struggle to find the open player, only could get a desperation 3-pointer off by Curran that missed wide with three seconds on the clock. A foul on Garden with one second left sent Ulysses senior guard Kyle Zerr to the free throw line, where he calmly sank both charity shots for the 36-33 lead.
A three-quarter-length pass down the sideline found Curran, who put up a 3-pointer at the buzzer that just fell short as it nudged the front of the rim.
For Holloway, it was a combination of factors that sent the Buffs to their ninth loss of the season against five wins. Turnovers, 16 of them, proved costly. So did the rebounding battle, won by Ulysses 23-19. And his team's defense, or lack therof, that allowed Ulysses' motion offense to score 11 baskets on drives to the basket or follow shots. The Tigers' two 3-pointers were the lone Ulysses baskets outside the lane.
"We lost guys around the basket, didn't find the guys on the offensive end that we had drawn up on the plays, just any number of things," Holloway said when talking about what factors played a key role in the outcome. "It's another loss at home and that's something we preach that we want to protect."
The Buffs got off to a strong start but couldn't shake the Tigers in the early going. Garden City had a 10-8 first quarter lead and were up by as many as seven before Carlos Galindo ended the first half with a 3-pointer to make it 19-15 Garden at the break. In a low-scoring third quarter, the Buffs finished with a 26-23 advantage heading to the final period.
"Both defenses were tough and that's what has kept us in many games," Jones said. "We've had a tough time scoring the ball."
Garden had one of its better shooting nights but it wasn't enough. The Buffs were 13-of-29 (44.8 percent) and 5-of-6 at the free throw line (83.3 percent). Ulysses finished 14-of-39 (35.8 percent) and were 2-of-3 at the stripe (66.6 percent). Zerr's nine points were tops for the Tigers while Curran finished with 10 to pace the Buffaloes.
The win for the Tigers improved their season mark to 8-5 and they now head into the stretch run with some momentum of having beaten Class 5A Hays and 6A Garden City within a span of 72 hours. They had previously beaten two other WAC schools — Dodge City and Liberal.
"I guess we're the unofficial WAC champions," Jones said when asked about the sweep. "Our schedule is not conducive to back-to-back victories, but the kids played hard as they always do. I was thinking back to our seniors on the way home from Dodge on Saturday and it's been a fun ride to see them grow up and mature."
Ulysses is at home on Tuesday against Hugoton while Garden City has a 10-day break before heading east to play Winfield and Derby on Feb. 3 and 4.
Ulysses 8 7 8 13 -- 36
Garden City 10 9 7 7 -- 33
Ulysses (8-5) — Galindo 2-5 0-0 5, Newell 1-8 0-0 2, Rodriguez 1-3 0-0 2, Mendoza 3-4 0-0 6, Kissell 3-7 0-0 6, Zerr 3-5 2-2 9, Meierhoff 1-3 0-0 2, Annis 0-2 0-0 0, Walters 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 14-39 2-3 36.
Garden City (5-9) — Diaz 0-0 0-0 0, Holguin 0-1 0-0 0, Banner 2-4 0-0 4, Keller 0-0 0-0 0, Terpstra 3-8 2-2 8, Parr 0-0 0-0 0, Curran 4-7 2-2 10, Taylor 2-3 2-2 6, Ensz 1-3 1-2 3, Nanninga 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 13-29 5-6 33.
3-point goals--Ulysses 2-12 (Galindo 1-3, Newell 0-5, Rodriguez 0-1, Zerr 1-3), Garden City 2-5 (Curran 2-4, Nanninga 0-1). Rebounds--Ulysses 23 (Galindo 4, Kissell 4), Garden City 19 (Taylor 5). Turnovers--Ulysses 17, Garden City 15. Fouls--Ulysses 10, Garden City 11. Fouled out--none.