Somehow, the Garden City Broncbusters men’s basketball team was relegated to watching a potential game-winning three-pointer fly towards the basket as time expired.
A make would be the nail in a late collapse for a Buster team that at one point looked like they would cruise to a comfortable win against visiting Neosho County on Saturday afternoon at Conestoga Arena.
But the shot clanked off the front of the rim, bounced off the backboard and out to allow the Busters to escape with a 75-74 win over the upset-mined Panthers, who trailed by nine with a little more than two minutes to play and by six with 45 seconds to go.
“It was just a lack of focus,” sophomore guard Pierre Johnson said, after a game in which he played 39 minutes and once again almost recorded a triple-double, but also was part of two costly turnovers late that could have given the game away.
“It’s just bad decisions,” head coach Brady Trenkle said. “Our guards got to do better breaking to (the passer). Our guards got to get open quicker. They’ve got to quit hiding.”
Neosho’s late charge came after they trailed from the first 30 seconds of the second half on, falling behind by as many as 13 with 5:25 to go. First, Rodney Ray made an and-1 off a foul from Thad Middleton, who had somewhat of a breakout game otherwise.
Then the Busters missed a three at the other end, and Rodney made a layup to cut the deficit to four. Jamir Thomas hit a pair of free throws, before Ray scored again to cut it back down. Johnson hit one-of-two free throws — after he and Thomas miscommunicated on an inbounds pass and turned it over, but the Busters got a stop at the other end — and then Austin Downing — who led all scorers with 21 points — sunk a mid-range running jumper for Neosho.
On the inbound, Thomas was immediately fouled to send him to the line for a 1-and-1 bonus, and he missed the front end. Neosho got the rebound and sliced the other way, where a missed layup turned into a putback by Ray put it back to cut the lead to just one with two seconds to play.
The Busters immediately tried to inbound it, and Johnson muscled through a defender to get the ball, but he was whistled for an offensive foul, giving the ball back to Neosho for a potential game-winner.
After a timeout to set up the inbound defense, the Busters played it well, and Neosho could only get a pass into Brandon Fenner — who had already hit three three-pointers — several feet behind the three-point line. He was able to take one dribble to create some room against Octavius Meadows and loft the potential game-winner that was just barely off.
“You’ve got to win ugly,” Trenkle said. “If you go through these games, and you find a way to win, you’re just getting better.”
Thomas led the Busters with 16 points, five boards, four blocks and three steals, while Johnson had 11 points and 10 assists, falling four boards shy of a triple-double. Kendale Hampton had 14 points on four made three-pointers, and Theo Holloway had 13 points.
But it was Middleton that provided a spark in the second half that gave the Busters a double-digit lead, after they trailed at the break. The Busters made an effort to get Middleton the ball on the left baseline, and he was able to create offensive chances from there for both himself and others, scoring a couple of layups, getting a putback from Thomas on one of his misses and dishing out an assist to Thomas on another.
“Thad’s really good there,” Trenkle said. “He’s so explosive, and if gets patience, he can be so good.”
The Busters — who were without Russhard Cruickshank, who was serving a suspension after receiving two technical fouls at Coffeyville Wednesday — improved to 11-4 overall and 7-4 in the KJCCC, and Neosho dropped to 5-9 and 3-8. Garden remains in a tie for fifth in the KJCCC.