Sunrise Christian Academy looked to inbound under its own basket. With the five-second count coming quickly, the Buffaloes tried to throw in a long inbound over Garden City Community College’s defenders.
Jamir Thomas was having none of it. He flashed to near the half-court line and tipped the ball into the back court, chased it down and drove it in for a reverse lay up. It cut what once was a 14-point Buffs’ lead down to two.
Riding Thomas’ individual effort against Sunrise Christian’s Wichita State commit, Isaiah Chandler, the Busters finished the rally for a 79-76 win on Saturday night at Conestoga Arena.
“I’ll argue with anybody about this. Jamir is one of the best big men in the country. That’s two really good players going at it," said GCCC coach Brady Trenkle. “Jamir really wanted it, and that kid (Chandler) really wanted it, because he watched Jamir last night.”
Chandler comes in as a three-star center on 247sports.com. He’s set to play for the Shockers next season.
And yet, it was Thomas who matched Chandler point-for-point, each racking up 17. And Thomas did it on four fewer shots.
“He’s been ready for this (game),” Trenkle said. “He’s been watching film on this for two weeks.”
But perhaps the Busters (3-0) were not quite ready for the intensity that the talented Sunrise Christian (1-2) team played with from the tip. The Buffaloes meticulously accumulated a 14-point lead late in the first half, going on an 8-0 run in the middle of the third quarter to spark the early advantage.
Chandler’s lay up with 4:07 left in the half gave the Buffs a 36-22 lead, before the Busters chipped it back down to 42-31 at half.
“That’s what we needed,” Trenkle said of the test Sunrise Christian presented. “I was looking forward to this one. Today, I’m telling you, they came out burning at us, and I was so happy to see it. They came in ready to go, and they wanted to beat us.”
The Busters responded with a strong will of their own in the second half.
“Jamir took over,” Trenkle said. “He hit me at halftime and was like, ‘We’re not losing this game.’ I’ve never had a player do that.”
Thomas had just two points in the first half while Chandler had 12. Those rolls flipped in the final 20 minutes. Thomas scored four quick points to begin the half, and the Busters continued to chip away at the lead, until they got to 50-46 on Pierre Johnson’s pair of free throws.
That’s when Thomas picked up the steal on the in-bounds and got the lay up. Then he scored another lay up, and two possessions later, with the Buffs up by one, Thomas drilled a 3-pointer to give the Busters the lead.
The teams exchanged buckets, until Theo Holloway went on an individual run of his own for the Busters, scoring seven-consecutive points on a free throw and a pair of treys. Then he gave the Busters their largest lead of the game a couple of minutes later with another deep ball, and Thomas extended it with a jumper on the base line.
The Busters almost gave the game away late, allowing a 3-pointer by Chandler, and then turning it over on the ensuing in-bounds and fouling Coreyoun Rushin as he put in a lay up. He missed the free throw, but KJ Fitzgerald got the rebound and put it in to cut it to 78-76. Holloway managed to get to the line on the Busters’ possession and hit a free throw to make it a three-point game, and the Busters held on as Sunrise’s last-second trey was off the mark.
“We found a way to win,” Trenkle said.
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at email@example.com.