Garden City High School entered 3-0. Holcomb entered 0-3. But a win in Saturday’s Finney County rivalry game to conclude the Roundball Classic could significantly alter each team’s early season trajectory.
But even though the Longhorns put up a fight, it was the Buffaloes who came out on top, 43-29, in a game marred by turnovers, miscues and inconsistencies at The Garden.
The Buffs turned it over 18 times, and were out-toughed early on rebounds as Holcomb managed to take a couple of early five-point leads, before the Buffs were able to take a lead midway through the first period and maintain it from there, even if they never really completely settled down.
“I don’t know if we every actually did (settle),” GCHS head coach Matt Pfeifer said. “We knew Holcomb would come out and hit us in the mouth, and they would come out ready to play and play hard, and I don’t think we matched them right at the beginning. But as the game went on, I felt like we got more comfortable and matched their inability.”
And in doing so, the Buffs improved to 4-0 for the first time in what is believed to be several decades.
“It just feels good for our kids,” Pfeifer said of the undefeated start to the season. “With young kids — we play a lot of sophomores — for them to be able to learn and make mistakes, it helps when you’re winning.”
But the Longhorns are now in the opposite position, going 0-4 to begin the season with a young roster of their own.
“We had a lot of seniors graduate, and we’re still figuring out our identity,” Holcomb head coach Nathan Novack said. “It’s really not going to be one player. It’s going to be multiple.”
The first order of business for the Longhorns would be to cut down on the turnovers, as they had 27 against the Buffs, including 16 in the first half, which stopped the Longhorns from potentially holding onto their early lead against a nearly equally turnover-prone Garden City offense.
“I felt like defensively we took away what they wanted to do, taking away their cutters,” Novack said. “I thought we did well with that.”
The Buffs were 13-of-31 shooting, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range.
The Longhorns' defensive effort just was not enough to make up for an offense that’s struggling to find its footing, going 9 of 30 from the floor.
Novack said the young roster sets up its half-court attack early in a possession, but gets out of it quickly after passes, something the Longhorns need to fix.
“Our flow and our timing of offense is going to be crucial,” he said, “working on that and getting more reps.”
The first half was marred by turnover after turnover — 10 for Garden City, 16 for Holcomb — as both teams were whistled for travels or double dribbles several times.
Between the miscues, the Longhorns managed to take an early 5-0 lead on Darien Mader’s 3-pointer and then a putback from Teryn Teeter. After the teams exchanged buckets for a 7-2 Holcomb lead, the Buffs went on a 13-2 run, thanks in large part to seven Holcomb turnovers in the final four minutes of the quarter.
The second quarter was similar, with both teams going on short runs as the other team turned it over on multiple consecutive possessions, but it was the Buffs who held a 23-19 advantage at the half.
The Buffs seemed to take control midway through the third quarter, leading by as many as 14, but Holcomb managed to rally to stay within striking distance, trailing 34-26 entering the final quarter.
But after Teeter opened the quarter with a short jumper, the Longhorns’ offense stalled again, recording just a single free throw the rest of the way.
Mader was the only scorer for Holcomb in double digits, scoring 10. The Buffs were led by Felicity Rodriguez’s 12 points as the Buffs were a plus-12 while she was on the floor.
Taryn Tabor added nine points, and Nateara Beasley had eight off the bench.
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at email@example.com.