In an up-tempo game dominated by two offenses playing at breakneck speeds trying to gain an advantage in transition, it was a series of stops by the Garden City Community College Broncbusters midway through the second half that proved the difference.
The Broncbusters gave up just a single free throw — and forced three turnovers — in a four-minute span, and finally were able to pull away from visiting Redlands (Okla.) in Friday’s 98-78 season-opening win at Conestoga Arena.
It was also the first win for head coach Patrick Nee at GCCC — he took over the helm in August after a year as an assistant under Brady Trenkle, who resigned to take an assistant position at Youngstown State in Ohio.
“Feels great to get that first win,” Nee said Friday. “We didn’t play very well in first half, but feel like we were much better in second half.”
The Busters had held a lead for most of the game, but the feisty Cougars always found an answer, until 13 minutes were left in the game.
The Busters led, 62-57, but got four-consecutive stops, and a lay up, free throw and then finally a Daishaun Woods’ 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 68-58, the first double-digit lead of the game.
After another stop, Jamir Thomas scored on a putback to make it 70-58, and the Busters never looked back.
“I thought our defense was much better second half, and that caused the runs we made,” Nee said.
Five Busters scored in double digits, led by Jamir Thomas’ 20, as he racked up his first double-double of the year, hauling in 12 rebonds, as well.
Jaleel Simmons had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Jakobi Pearson had 17 points, Tony Hopkins 12 and Russhard Cruickshank — the leading KJCCC 3-pointer shooter from a year ago —added 13.
AJ McNeil led Redlands with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Kenny Springs had 18.
The first half was a NASCAR race, with both teams pushing the ball up the floor quickly on each possession. That resulted in a lot of points, 45-all tie at the break, and a lot of mistakes, with the Busters committing eight turnovers to Redlands’ six.
The Busters finished with 16 to Redlands’ 20.
“We have to take better care of the ball,” Nee said. “Turnovers were really bad tonight, but we will watch film and learn from tonight’s mistakes.”
Still, the Busters held the lead for most of the first 20 minutes — despite four lead changes — but Redlands kept within striking distance, led by McNeil’s double-double at half (12 points, 10 boards).
The Cougars also got timely 3-pointers to cut into the Buster lead, as well, going 6 of 16 from beyond the arc in the first half. But it was a driving lay up in the waning moments of the half that drew Redlands even at 45 entering halftime.
After the break, the Busters focused on McNeil, who finished with 25 points, but got just two more boards in the second half, and had eight turnovers.
It also helped that the Busters shot 66.7 percent from the field (18 of 27) in the second half, as well, including a perfect 5 of 5 by Thomas for 12 points.
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at firstname.lastname@example.org