It wasn’t scripted. It was simply a player making a play.
Garden City Community College’s Brady Trenkle was going to call his last timeout with his Broncbusters down two points and the seconds ticking away in overtime of Sunday’s Region VI quarterfinal against Cowley.
But Jamir Thomas got the ball past half-court and was 1-on-1 with Cowley’s big, a matchup Trenkle thought was beneficial. So he let the Busters play. Thomas found the guy he wanted to shoot it, though, and passed the ball to 3-point specialist Kendale Hampton at the top of the key, and he crossed over a couple of times, drove right just in front of the Busters’ bench, rose up with less than a second to play and swished the 3-pointer, sending the fifth-seeded Busters to a pre-March Madness, heart-stopping 74-73 overtime victory over the fourth-seeded Tigers at Hartman Arena in Park City.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Trenkle said of Hampton’s buzzer-beater.
Hampton — who was 2 of 10 from 3-point range prior to the game-winner — told Trenkle in a timeout before the final play that he wanted the ball in his hands, after he didn’t get a chance at the end of regulation, when the fifth-seeded Busters turned it over on a last-chance possession that could have won a game in which the Busters trailed for all but one minute, 41 seconds of regulation, and only ever led by one point.
Cowley’s largest lead was 10 multiple times.
“I could see at the end of regulation that Kendale was not happy he did not get the last shot,” Trenkle said. “He’s been doing it all year for us.”
There was no doubt once it left his hands in overtime — and when the buzzer went off — that Hampton’s shot was in, Trenkle said.
“I had the best view in the place,” he said. “I was directly behind him. I could see it was going to be all net.”
The Buster bench exploded, dog-piled on the floor and Trenkle fist-pumped his way halfway down the floor, before the celebration was dampened briefly by the officials going to the monitor to confirm the shot was good. It was confirmed, and a secondary celebration began.
“It feels good, because they have a great team,” Hampton said of Cowley. “They hit some tough shots. We just had to play defense and play hard.”
“He’s a special player,” Trenkle said of Hampton.
And so was the win, which sends the Busters (21-11) to their first region semifinal since 2009, where they will meet top-seeded Coffeyville, which edged No. 8 Seward County 66-61 in the early Sunday quarterfinal.
The Busters and Red Ravens, who split the season series, are set for a 7 p.m. tip-off Tuesday.
Darnell Cowart hit the opening bucket of the game just 18 seconds in, and he harassed the Busters all night, with the big man doing most of his damage with jump shots, scoring a game-high 19 points.
Jamir tied it at two 30 seconds later, but Cowley’s Jeremiah Starks made the first of the Tigers’ 12 3-pointers for the game.
From there, Cowley led nearly the entire way, pushing the advantage to 10 for the first time on Cowart’s and-1. When the Busters cut the deficit, Cowley had an answer.
Even at halftime, the Busters fell further behind.
With replay being used during region tournament play, the officials ruled during intermission that Hampton’s toe was on the line on a first-half 3-pointer, leaving the Busters behind 37-32 instead of the 37-33 they believed they trailed.
Russhard Cruickshank hit a 3-pointer six minutes into the second half that briefly tied it at 44, before Cowart gave the Tigers the lead once again on a free throw.
The Tigers then seemed to take control again when they went on an 11-2 run to re-establish a 10-point lead at 59-49 with 6:24 to go. But Cruickshank hit another of his four 3-pointers and Thomas hit a jumper to stop the bleeding.
Back-to-back Cruickshank 3-pointers cut the deficit to 65-62 for the Busters, and then Pierre Johnson got.a slicing layup to go to make it 65-64. That’s when Hampton got a layup to give the Busters their first lead, 66-65, with 34 seconds to go.
Free throws exchanged between the two teams left the game tied at 67 for the Busters, who had 22 seconds left on the clock to get a shot off. Johnson drove the lane with four seconds to play, and seemed to have an opening, but lost his dribble and turned it over with just under a second to play.
Cowley got off a full-court pass from under its own basket that was reminiscent of Duke's Christian Laettner’s famous game-winner against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, but Cowart’s last-gasp jumper from inside the 3-point line was off to send the game to overtime.
Coward opened the overtime with a 3-pointer, and Johnson made a jumper. A couple of free throws each way made it 72-71, before Cowart went 1 for 2 from the line to make it 73-71 with 15 seconds to go.
The Busters inbounded it to Thomas against Cowley’s press, and Thomas inched up the court against no man defender. When he got to the 3-point line, Coward finally confronted him, and he picked up his dribble and found Hampton, who made the miracle shot, advancing the Busters, who are looking to reach the NJCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
“My whole thing is, ‘Why not us?’” Trenkle said. “Just like that miracle out there.”
Note: In the late quarterfinal matchups, Barton rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat Colby, 79-72, while the late game between No. 2 Hutchinson and No. 7 Independence was not final at time of press.