DODGE CITY — The Dennis Hamilton era of precision offense, puzzling zone defenses and general domination of Garden City ended with the retirement of the successful, long-time Dodge City Demon coach after the 2017 season.
In his place is Tony Starnes, who has employed a free-for-all, 3-point shooting, full-court pressure style of ball.
Tuesday night’s first matchup between Garden City’s Buffaloes and the new-look Demons produced one of the higher scoring games in recent history, and this time it was the Buffaloes getting a rare win in the Boot Hill City, this one a 64-61 survival over their Western Athletic Conference rival.
The Buffs nearly let this one slip away after building what at one point seemed an insurmountable lead, extending a 46-30 halftime lead to 57-39 at the end of the third period.
When it was 59-42 with 6:30 left in the game, all seemed good for the Buffs.
“The game was really fast-paced,” said sophomore guard Carlos Acosta, who came off the bench to score 10 points, including two of three from behind the arc. “They were forcing us to take quick shots.”
Down the stretch, the Demons attacked and attacked, getting to the free-throw line with regularity, making 17 of 28 for the game, including eight of 14 in the final eight minutes.
“They were penetrating, and dishing and driving,” Acosta said of the aggressive Demons. “But this feels really great to get a win here. The crowd was crazy wild, and it’s a rivalry game. It’s not easy here.”
A desperation 3-pointer just before the final buzzer by Dodge’s Noah Sowers hit the back of the rim and bounced high off as the horn sounded, thus preserving the Buffs win.
The win improved the Buffs to 8-6 overall and 3-1 in the WAC while Dodge fell to 7-6 overall and 2-1 in the league.
Garden coach Jacy Holloway echoed his guard’s sentiments about the difficulty in getting a win in Dodge, something that has rarely occurred during his eight seasons in Garden.
“There were times when it looked like we were getting out of what we wanted to do offensively,” Holloway said. “Some of it might be nerves. I don’t know if we got complacent, but we just quit looking for the seams in their defense. We attacked it really well in the first half, and didn’t do as good a job in the second half.”
Poor free-throw shooting nearly cost the Buffs in this one, too, as they were only four of 14 for the game, and missed their last seven, including the front end of a bonus and then three consecutive two-shotters.
“Do the things that you’re supposed to do, and it’s not that close of a game,” Holloway said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a win. I’d prefer the 15-point win, but as hard as it’s been to win here, we’ll take it.”
Tye Davis had a game-high 21 points for the Buffs, including five of eight from behind the arc. Acosta was the only other Garden player in double figures with his 10.
Holloway said in the first half, the Buffs played well on both ends, hitting buckets and playing solid defense against the high-scoring Demons.
“We were doing all the things we wanted,” Holloway said. “But getting this is big. It’s another win and gives us a two-game streak to get rid of that four-game bad taste (losing streak).”
Rickenberg led Dodge with 17 points while Heath added 14, Sowers 12 and Dawson Williams 10 for the balanced Dodge attack.
For the game, the Buffs finished 25 of 52 for 48.1 percent to Dodge’s 19 of 56 (33.9 percent). The teams traded 39 rebounds with Demarcus Elliott grabbing nine while Heath had 10 boards to give him a double-double.
The rat-race pace was evidenced by 19 Buffs’ turnovers to 15 for the Demons. Each team had 11 steals. Garret Doll had six assists to lead the Buffs in that category.
In a first half that exceeded normal basketball speed limits, the Buffs were hitting on all cylinders offensively, leading 20-17 after the opening stanza, before going on a 26-13 spree in the second to take command, 46-30, by halftime.
By the break, the Buffs had knocked down an amazing nine-of-14 shots from behind the arc (64.3 percent) and were 18-of-32 overall (56.3 percent).
Davis, who was four of five from deep, led that first-half barrage with 14 points.
The Buffs will hit the road Friday when they travel to Guymon to face the Tigers in a game expected to tipoff at about 7:45 p.m.