In the previous three seasons for Garden City Community College’s men’s basketball team, the Broncbusters have lost to Hutchinson five times by single digits.
The Busters got another crack at the top-ranked and defending national champion Blue Dragons on Saturday night. They even got two good looks at potentially go-ahead three pointers in the final minute.
And yet, it was the Dragons, and a calm, cool, collected mid-range jumper from Devonte Bandoo, who walked out of Conestoga Arena with a 68-64 win.
“Sometimes the shots don’t fall, and when they don’t fall, you better be good on the other end,” GCCC head coach Brady Trenkle said. “We were really good on defense tonight, but it’s one of those things, who’s going to hit the last shot is going to win it, and that’s exactly what it came down to.”
After an early Garden City (8-3, 4-3) burst to begin the game, Hutchinson (10-1, 6-1) controlled much of the rest of the Jayhawk Conference battle, stemming multiple Buster rallies to stay in front by around six points. The Dragons led by seven late, before the Busters’ Theo Holloway sank one of their five three-pointers to cut it to four. Then Jamir Thomas — who finished with a game-high 27 points — hit a jumper from the free-throw line, and Pierre Johnson drew the Busters even at 64 with a floater off the glass with 1:10 to play.
It was the third time in the half the Busters drew even or pulled ahead, but the Dragons always had an answer. This time, though, the Busters got a stop, and Buster sharp-shooter Kendale Hampton got an open look at the hoop from beyond the arc, but the shot rattled out.
That’s when Bandoo struck at the other end with a pull-up jumper from 16 feet, just over the contested reach of Russhard Cruickshank.
“Bandoo hit a great shot,” Trenkle said.
The Busters went for the win at the other end, getting the ball into Holloway’s hands with about five seconds left, but his three was long, and after a scramble and jump ball, the Dragons got a meaningless layup at the buzzer to secure the final margin.
“This is the best I’ve felt after a loss, because we’re going to respond to it,” Trenkle said. “My guys played hard enough to win. They gave everything they had.”
The Busters got 14 points from Johnson and nine from Holloway, but it was the big man Thomas who carried them much of the night. He put up his fourth double-double of the season, adding 14 boards to his 27 points.
“He dominated the No. 1 team in the country, in a sense, in the paint,” Trenkle said, also referencing Thomas’ five turnovers. “And Hutch is phenomenal in the paint.”
The Dragons got 15 points from JJ Rhymes, and 12 from James Rojas, who got the best of Thomas a couple of times with steals. Bandoo finished with eight.
The first half was a a harbinger of the defensive slugfest to come, with neither team giving an inch of space to the other. Both teams shot 38.7 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, but the difference was Hutchinson hit one more three-pointer (2-1) and went to the line six more times, going 8 of 12 to Garden’s 3 of 6.
The Busters also had eight turnovers to Hutchinson’s four. But they started the game with a punch, provided by the capable hands of Thomas, who made back-to-back lay ups to begin the game. Thomas had 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, but the Dragons held him to just two in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson’s offense gained some traction, sparked by Rojas’ three-pointer nine minutes in to give Hutch a 19-16 lead. The 6-foot-7 Rojas then made a layup, and stripped Thomas a couple of minutes later to set up Curtis Hollis’ fast-break lay up.
From the 9:43 mark to the 5:02 mark, the Dragons held the Busters scoreless, building a seven-point lead. Jeff Otchere’s and-1 broke the skid for the Busters, who pulled within four.
Josh Creach scored a putback to send the Dragons into the break with a 34-28 advantage, setting up the late-game dramatics.
“ It was two teams fighting. It was a heavyweight battle,” Trenkle said. “Somebody’s got to lose.”