Busters' rally comes up short on last-second misfire
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
It was Jalen Variste's night for the Garden City Community College Broncbusters. He scored a team-high 17 points as Barton County defenders played off of him, begging him to shoot long jumpers.
He made them pay for it, draining 20-footer after 20-footer to carry the Busters' struggling offense. But it was his final running jumper at the top of the key as the buzzer went off that hit the front of the rim and bounced harmlessly away that sent the Busters to a heart-breaking 65-64 loss on Saturday night at the Perryman Athletic Complex.
"We've had some tough losses this whole year," the freshman point guard said after the loss. "But this one definitely hurts the most."
The fact that the Busters, who fall to 17-6 overall and 3-4 in conference, had to overcome a double-digit deficit in the second half after an abysmal shooting first half, took the lead with less than 10 seconds left on the clock, and then lost on a pair of free throws with only three seconds left made it that much worse.
"This one's hard to swallow," head coach Brady Trenkle said.
Trenkle's squad was 9-for-35 shooting in the first half (26 percent) en route to their lowest first-half total in conference play with 23 points.
"I don't know what it was. I noticed it even at shoot-around," Trenkle said. "It was like there was a bubble over the rim. We were missing shots we normally don't miss."
The poor shooting left the Busters looking up at a 30-23 halftime advantage for the Cougars (16-7, 4-3). But the Busters warmed up quickly in the second half behind Variste's long-range shooting as the point guard had 13 of his 17 points in the final 20 minutes.
The Busters fell behind by 11, 36-25, only three minutes into the final half, but cut the deficit to five at the 13-minute mark. For the next 10 minutes, the Busters and Cougars exchanged bucket after bucket as the Cougars never led by more than seven and the Busters were never closer than two during the stretch.
With 2:45 left to play, the Cougars were up 61-55 and looked like they were going to be able to hold off the Busters. But that's when Variste went to work. On the Busters' next possession, Variste dribbled to the top of the 3-point line, surveyed the defense, saw they were giving him the shot and he took it, hitting nothing but net to cut the deficit to 61-58. Then, Variste pick-pocketed a Barton ballhandler and hit a driving layup on the fast break to get to 61-60.
On the Cougars' next possession, Variste looked to have another steal before being whistled for the foul on Barton's Raheem Johnson, who made both free throws as the Cougars were in the double bonus.
Then, it was the Busters' turn to go to the line as Jady Cathey was fouled on his drive to the basket. However, Cathey missed both, something that plagued the Busters the entire game as they went 16 of 29 from the charity stripe.
With a minute to go, Johnson went to the line again but this time missed both, giving the Busters another chance, down 63-60. And Variste capitalized, draining a pull-up jumper in the lane.
The Busters then forced another turnover on defense, streaked the other way and put up a shot which bounced off the rim and straight up in the air where Cathey was able to tip it in with seven seconds left on the clock for the Busters to take their first lead since an early 14-13 advantage in the first half.
The Cougars immediately pushed the ball up the floor to try for a last-second shot, when Variste tried to cause yet another Cougars' turnover to end the game. Instead, Variste was called for the foul, sending Barton's Tyler Corley to the line for two with only 3.1 seconds left.
Corley hit both pressure-filled charities, giving the Cougars the final 65-64 lead.
"I don't know if it was a foul or not," Trenkle said of Variste's infraction on Corley. "I didn't get that at Cloud, I can tell you that much. They called it, put a good free-throw shooter at the line and he stepped up under pressure and hit both of them. That's big time by that kid. I really don't know what else to say."
The Busters' last-gasp attempt came as Variste received the in-bound pass at the half court, drove to the top of the key in less than three seconds and took the running jumper at the buzzer.
"I did get a good look," Variste said of the final shot. "The play was to catch me on the run. They set everybody back, so I had to catch at a stand still, but it was still a good look. I feel like if I got it again, I would hit it."
Variste finished 8-of-14 shooting and 1 of 2 from beyond the arc.
"It's hard to lose on a whistle," Trenkle said. "And I'm not saying we deserved to win the way we played. The first half, we were horrible."
True to form, the Busters fought back to give themselves a chance, but poor free-throw shooting and the disparity in free throws was too much to overcome. The Busters shot 29 free throws compared to Bartons' 44.
Despite the poor shooting, the Busters had three players scoring in double digits. Behind Variste's 17, Jeremy Wilson and Cathey both had 10 each, while Tidell Pierre chipped in with eight.
Meanwhile, the Cougars were led by Darius Gibson's 22 points on 4 of 6 field goals and 13 of 17 free throws. Corley chipped in with 15 points, and Johnson had 14.
The loss completes the first half of the KJCCC West schedule as the Busters will begin the back half at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when they host Hutchinson (20-3, 6-1), who beat Dodge City 106-77 on Saturday, at the Perryman Athletic Complex.
Barton (16-7, 4-3)--Johnson 2-8 1-1 5, Gibson 4-6 13-17 22, Corley 4-6 4-4 15, Parks 1-7 0-0 2, Johnson 2-9 10-14 14, Unrau 1-3 0-0 3, Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Williams 0-3 4-4 4, Robinson 0-1 0-2 0, Walker 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 14-46 32-44 65.
Garden City (17-6, 3-4)--Wilson 4-12 2-4 10, Whitaker 3-5 0-0 6, King 1-3 0-0 2, Variste 8-14 0-0 17, Johnson 1-5 5-7 7, Bell 1-5 0-2 2, Oyugi 0-1 0-2 0, Taylor 0-4 0-0 0, Cathey 1-5 7-10 10, Pierre 3-6 2-4 8, Banks 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-61 16-29 64.
Halftime--Barton 30-23. 3-point goals--Barton 5-16 (Gibson 1-1, Corley 3-4, Parks 0-3, Unrau 1-3, Smith 0-1, Williams 0-3, Robinson 0-1), GCCC 2-11 (Wilson 0-2, Variste 1-2, Johnson 0-3, Taylor 0-2, Cathey 1-1, Pierre 0-1). Rebounds--Barton 38 (Johnson 8), GCCC 34 (Johnson, Cathey 4). Assists--Barton 2 (Unrau, Smith), GCCC 6 (King 2). Technical fouls--Barton (Johnson), GCCC (Taylor). Fouled out--Barton (Parks), GCCC (none). Total fouls--Barton 21, GCCC 28.