Just as it looked like the Garden City Broncbusters were going to pull away, the unexpected happened.

That applies to both Wednesday’s surprising 76-72 loss to Independence in the Conestoga Arena, and in the Busters’ conference race, in which they had a chance to cement themselves in the top four of the KJCCC with a win Wednesday.

Instead, the unexpected, such as the Busters blowing a 20-point lead to a middle-of-the-pack Independence team.

Such as their offense disappearing in the second half, in which they hit just nine of their 28 shots.

Such as the Busters’ undisputed heart and soul, point guard Pierre Johnson, having his “worst game of this season,” scoring just five points while turning the ball over three times.

“It started off with me,” a sullen Johnson said after the game, holding a ball, still in basketball shoes and heading towards the back gym of the Perryman Athletic Complex.

And instead of keeping pace with the top three teams in the KJCCC, and a step ahead of a crowded middle of the conference, the Busters (15-7, 11-7) stumbled and found themselves in a three-way tie for fourth, just a game ahead of Independence (13-8, 10-8) and one more ahead of another squad.

The Busters were one of just two teams in the top seven of the conference standings to lose Wednesday — first-place Barton fell to Cowley, which is one of the two teams tied with Garden City.

“It hurts,” GCCC head coach Brady Trenkle said of the loss, “because when you’re looking at games at the end of the year, you’re going, ‘Should have won that one, should have won that one, should have won that one,’ but you didn’t. So, what are you going to do?”

Trenkle and the Busters likely will point at this one at the end of the year, after going up 45-25 on Elvis Harvey’s 3-pointer with 1:48 to play in the first half. But Independence cut that to 45-34 by intermission, DeAnthony McCallum’s 3-pointer capping a 9-0 run.

That Buster skid continued into the second half, as Independence made it 45-40 just two minutes into it on McCallum’s layup — a 15-0 run that spanned just more than three minutes of game time.

Jamir Thomas’ and-one 3-point play ended the Buster skid, and they pushed the lead to 53-43 on another Thomas old-fashioned 3-pointer. But then the Pirates went on yet another 15-0 run to take a 58-53 lead midway through the half.

What did the Pirates do to stymie the Busters?

“Nothing,” Johnson said. “We beat ourselves. We were up 20, nine at halftime. We beat ourselves.”

The two teams exchanged buckets for the next eight minutes, before Johnson’s left-handed dribble drive and layup gave the Busters the lead back with three minutes to play.

But a second-chance putback for Independence put the Busters back into chase mode. With 12 seconds to play, Kendale Hampton made one of the Busters’ 11 3-pointers for the game, bringing them to within 74-72.

Garden City allowed Tyreece Berry to get the inbound pass, and fouled him, sending the 55 percent free-throw shooter to the foul line. But Berry made both — the Pirates’ 32nd and 33rd free throws of the game — sealing the Pirates’ win.

The Busters were called for 30 fouls, with which Trenkle was disappointed.

“No flow,” Trenkle said of the calls. “I don’t think it cost us, but no flow. We couldn’t get a flow, and when you can’t do that, you’re not going to win.”

Russhard Cruickshank led the Busters with 19 points on six-of-11 shooting, including five of eight from deep. Hampton had 18, Harvey 10 and Thomas 13. They had just seven points from their bench.

McCallum led Independence with 20 points.

The Busters continue a two-game home-stand when they host rival Dodge City at 4 p.m. Saturday.