By BRETT MARSHALL
Not much was working on the offensive side of the basketball floor for the Garden City Buffaloes on Tuesday night against the Liberal Redskins.
So, the Buffs turned to their defense, especially down the stretch of the fourth quarter and rode that effort to a hard-fought, grind-it-out 42-34 victory over the Redskins at The Garden.
It wasn't pretty, in the words of GCHS head coach Jacy Holloway.
It wasn't always the way it was drawn up, in the words of 6-foot-5 junior Caleb Tramp.
But, in the final analysis, a win is a win is a win.
"We're just playing hard games right now in the league (Western Athletic Conference)," said Tramp, who came off the bench to score a game-high 14 points off 6-of-10 shooting from the field, including a big-time steal that was followed by a thunderous slam dunk with 1:38 remaining in the game and the Buffs clinging to a one-point lead at the time.
In the next three possessions, Liberal fumbled the ball away after the Buffs employed a pressure trap defense. They were able to convert 4-of-6 free throws to get a little breathing room at 40-32 with 41 seconds left.
"We were able to make them turn the ball over and that was big," Tramp said. "The steal and dunk was a huge confidence boost for us. We were able to finish it out and beat them."
Tristan Nanninga missed both ends of a double-bonus with 32 seconds left and Liberal's Hayden Coker, who led the Redskins with 10 points, scored on a layup with an assist from Britton Abbott at the 24-second mark.
With 18 seconds on the clock, Hunter Delgado cashed in a pair of charities to close out the scoring to secure the Buffs' victory.
"The things we're working on doesn't show up in the game," Garden coach Jacy Holloway said. "They think they have to shoot it quick to score a lot of points. And so we do shoot it quick. They think we hold the ball a lot, but I imagine we rarely hold it for more than 20 seconds before somebody just puts one up there."
It doesn't help either when the shots aren't falling, and Tuesday was another night that Old Man Winter seems to visit the Buffs' offensive end.
The Buffs managed only 27 percent on 13-of-48 shots, including 2-of-10 from 3-point range. Free throwing was slightly improved, but still far from acceptable as they cashed in 12-of-19 (63 percent), much better than their combined 16-of-35 in the two games a week ago.
"Liberal did a great job of making us take the shots and they were highly-contested shots," Holloway said.
Both Tramp and Holloway said the team's defensive pressure in the fourth quarter proved pivotal to the final outcome.
"We did a good job of hurrying them up at the end," Tramp said. "But we have to slow down and see what the other team's defense is doing, too. I think since the break, we've grown a little bit and just starting to play somewhat better."
With neither team lighting it up on the offensive side, it wasn't a surprise that the first-quarter score was 12-9 with Liberal in front. Those quarter scores were reversed in the second, thus sending the teams into halftime all tied at 21. Things didn't warm up in the third quarter, either.
The teams traded 3-pointer early, Liberal's Jared Hasik countering Mitchell Hernandez' trey. From there, the Redskins managed just a follow shot by Coker and a pair of free throws while the Buffs got field goals from Delgado on a steal and another fast break layup off a steal by Tramp.
That was about it for scoring, as both teams came back out tied at 28 for the start of the fourth. When Blake Stout hit two free throws and Coker scored on a layup with 5:15 to play, the Redskins were on top 32-28. From there, the Garden City defense tightened up and the rally was just about to get under way.
Tuesday's victory improves the Buffs' season record to 6-3 overall and 2-1 in the WAC while Liberal falls to 2-6 overall and 0-2 in the WAC.
The Buffs will play their third consecutive home game on Friday when they take on Hays High at 7:45 p.m. at The Garden. The teams met in the championship game of the Hays City Shootout on Dec. 7, with the Indians surviving a late rally by the Buffs, winning 57-53, after the Buffs had trailed by 19 early in the third quarter.
Liberal 12 9 7 6 -- 34
Garden City 9 12 7 14 -- 42
Liberal (2-6, 0-2) — Quintana 0-2 1-2 1, Hasik 2-4 0-0 6, Abbott 1-5 5-9 7, Stout 1-2 3-4 5, Larkin 0-1 1-2 1, Ware 1-4 0-0 2, Hinkle 0-2 2-4 2, Coker 5-8 0-0 10. Totals 10-28 12-21 34.
Garden City (6-3, 2-1) — Tramp 6-10 2-3 14, Delgado 1-7 5-6 7, Olivas 0-3 1-2 1, Koster 1-9 1-2 4, Hernandez 1-6 0-0 3, Nanninga 3-7 2-4 8, Rodriguez 1-3 0-0 2, Parr 1-1 0-0 2, Love 0-1 1-2 1, Rincones 0-1 0-0 0, Gurrola 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-48 12-19 42.
3-point goals--Liberal 2-7 (Quintana 0-1, Hasik 2-3, Stout 0-1, Ware 0-1, Hinkle 0-1), Garden City 2-10 (Delgado 0-2, Olivas 0-1, Koster 1-3, Hernandez 1-4). Rebounds--Liberal 27 (Abbott 5, Coker 5), Garden City 31 (Rodriguez 7). Turnovers--Liberal 23, Garden City 12. Fouls--Liberal 16, Garden City 17. Technical fouls--Garden City (Delgado, Parr). Fouled out--none.