Garden City Community College’s Kendale Hampton hit a game-tying 3-pointer for his Garden City Broncbusters with 28 seconds to play against visiting Seward County.
But the Busters still needed a stop at the other end — insert 7-footer Jeff Otchere with his tree-limb arms, as the freshman big slapped a potential Seward County game-winner all the way back to half-court to send the back-and-forth battle to overtime for the second time in as many games between these two teams.
Just like the first game in Liberal, it was the Busters who were able to hang on for a 75-72 win against the Saints Monday night at Conestoga Arena.
“It’s like a rivalry game for this year,” GCCC sophomore guard Pierre Johnson, who is a transfer from Seward County, said with a big smile. “It’s all competitive.”
Johnson was all smiles because the Busters got the victory.
“That was a perfect game for us going into the region,” GCCC head coach Brady Trenkle said, as the win locked up the No. 5 seed in the Region VI tournament that begins Thursday.
The Busters (19-11, 15-11) will host Allen County at 8 p.m. Thursday.
“They’re good,” Trenkle said of the Saints (17-13, 13-13). “They’re a top-seven, -eight team in our league, and I think they’re a lot better than that, in my opinion.”
A loss to the Saints would have dropped the Busters to the seventh seed, and they would have had to host an 18-win Northwest Kansas Tech team, and be on the side of the bracket with both No. 2 seed Hutchinson and No. 3 seed Barton, which are a combined 4-0 against the Busters this season.
Instead, the Busters exchanged haymakers with the staunch Saints, who went on a pair of double-digit runs to help take a lead — an 11-0 streak in the first half and a 10-0 run in the second half.
“Their defense is on point right now, and we knew it,” Trenkle said. “They had our guys rattled because it seemed like they were in a 1-3-1, but then they’d be in man. I kept telling our guys, ‘That’s why all somebody has to do is cut.’”
The Busters took heed for one stretch, when they went on a 9-0 run of their own to make it 52-40 with 10 minutes to play, but that was almost immediately followed by Seward County’s second run to cut it to 54-52. The Busters pushed the lead back to four, before the Saints went on an 8-0 stretch to take the lead at 60-56.
“Once a team makes a run, we’ve got to be able to make a stop,” Johnson said. “These last three games, our defense has changed tremendously. We’re maturing, helping each other, talking more. And our defense helps our offense. I think that’s really the key.”
Sure enough, when Seward took the four-point lead, the Busters got four consecutive stops — including two turnovers — to re-take a 62-60 advantage.
The Saints went back ahead for the seventh lead change of the game on Devin Bethely’s free throw. Terrell Alfred — who finished with a team-high 19 points — scored on a layup to give the Saints a 3-point lead. That’s when Hampton sunk his clutch 3-pointer, sending the playoff-like atmosphere of the Conestoga Arena into a frenzy.
Then the Busters called a timeout to set up their defense and deny the Saints a late game-winner.
“I almost forgot to put (Otchere) in,” Trenkle said of the pivotal substitution.
Trenkle thought he had five fouls, but his assistants were able to recognize that Otchere needed to be in the game, and he got back on defense. Seward ran a specific set and got a shot at the rim, but Otchere’s big armspan was too big an obstacle, and his powerful block elicited the largest cheer of the night.
Seward got one last desperate half-court heave at the buzzer, but it was off.
To begin overtime, Russhard Cruickshank — who finished with 21 points on 6-of-15 3-pointers — hit his biggest trey of the night. But as had happened all night, Seward answered. It was tied at 68 and 70, before Pierre Johnson got two free throws, and the Busters got three consecutive stops on defense. In the meantime, Elvis Harvey hit a free throw and Johnson got two more — the Busters went 25 of 35 from the line, while the Saints were just 4 of 7 — to create some breathing room.
“For us to score in the 70s tells me we are scoring the ball, because we didn’t shoot it well tonight,” Trenkle said. “But we found a way to get to the line, which I think won us the game.”
The Saints are the No. 8 seed and will host No. 9 Butler Thursday.