By BRETT MARSHALL
The Garden City Buffaloes boys' basketball team did its best to put the sour taste of a two-game weekend losing stretch behind them prior to Tuesday night's Senior Night at The Garden.
The fact that arch-rival Dodge City was coming to town certainly helped with the focus and put the past in a folder.
For much of this roller-coaster season, the Buffs have had trouble scoring, but with his two point guards — senior Tristan Nanninga, and junior Jared Koster — on the court at the same time for long stretches of the game, the Buffs' offense motored along.
Those two had season-high games, combining for 37 points to propel the Buffs to a 60-51 win over the Red Demons and improve their season record to 11-7 overall and 3-3 in the Western Athletic Conference.
It also put a dagger into the Red Demons' hopes of perhaps overtaking the Buffs in the seeding for the upcoming Class 6A sub-state in two weeks. The Demons are now 7-10 overall and 3-2 in the WAC.
And while coach Jacy Holloway wasn't ready to say that Tuesday's performance was the best he'd seen from his team this season, it certainly will rank high on the chart.
Consider that Koster scored a career-high 20 points and was perfect for the night from the field, making all seven of his attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers. He was 4 of 6 at the free throw line.
Also, it was a banner night for the senior Nanninga, who, like the rest of his teammates, has had more than his share of ups and downs. Tuesday night, it was all on the up and up.
The 6-foot senior celebrated Senior Night by knocking down 7-of-9 field goals, all of the 2-point variety, and many on whirling drives to the basket, or floaters into the lane or from the baseline. It was vintage open-court basketball, and both Nanninga and Koster enjoyed it.
And they did it without senior guard Hunter Delgado, who was forced to sit out the game for violating school policy earlier in the day, according to GCHS Athletic Director Martin Segovia.
"It wasn't anything special we did," Nanninga said afterward. "Jared stepped up big tonight. We were just pushing the ball more, and it certainly feels good to get a win on the last (regular season) game we play here at home. Beating Dodge makes it doubly sweet."
Those two helped the Buffs to easily their best shooting effort of the season, blistering the nets on 23-of-34 shots for 67.6 percent. They committed just 10 turnovers and won the rebounding battle 19-16.
The loss avenged a frightful loss to the Demons in early January, when Dodge won a 35-26 sleepwalker when both teams struggled to score. Scoring was not an issue in this one, however.
The Buffs had led since midway through the second quarter when they outscored the Demons 17-11 that produced a 30-25 halftime lead. In that stretch, another senior — Mitchell Hernandez — knocked down a pair of treys.
As they usually do, the Demons hung around and never went away. Garden led 32-29 midway into the third before finishing off the period on a 12-5 run that pushed their lead to 44-34.
"I thought, even from the start, that we were better prepared for Dodge than we've been," Holloway said. "We weren't guessing so much what they were doing. The kids were focused on that, recognized things, and we made changes ourselves, which I thought kept them off balance, too."
Holloway, who has tinkered with the Buffs' lineup throughout the season, trying to find the right combinations, said it was gratifying to see the two guards come up with such impressive outings.
"They were both under control, both attacking," Holloway, a former point guard, said. "What was even more impressive is the way they played off the ball, too. I think they're both getting comfortable with those roles."
Garden's biggest lead came at the 5:57 mark when Nanninga scored on another driving bucket to put the Buffs up 48-36.
But the Demons finally started some long-range shooting, something they had not done all night. After making just one trey in the first three quarters, the Demons knocked down three in the final 3:57 to pull within three at 54-51 with 58 seconds left.
But the Buffs answered with two Hernandez free throws, a thunderous slam dunk by Caleb Tramp and two final free throws by Koster to put the game away.
Nanninga also came up big with a block of a 3-point attempt by Dodge's Dayton McGroaty in the final 30 seconds that helped seal the win.
"It was a pretty big night, and I just wanted to help with the scoring, especially with Hunter not playing," Koster said. "I took more shots, but I think the big thing is we pushed the ball and we're more athletic than them."
Koster said the win was critical, considering they had suffered tough losses to Great Bend and Holcomb on Friday and Saturday.
"After losing those last two, we got prepared and came out and showed how we can play," Koster said. "Nothing is much better than beating Dodge for sure."
Dodge got 18 points from Austin Weiser, who was 11 of 11 at the free throw line. Jace Larson added 14 for the Demons.
The Buffs will travel to WAC-leading and unbeaten Hays on Friday, before closing out the regular season with a Tuesday road test at Liberal.
Dodge City 14 11 9 17 -- 51
Garden City 13 17 14 16 -- 60
Dodge City (7-10, 3-2) — Sands 1-2 2-2 4, McGroaty 1-3 0-0 3, Unruh 1-3 0-0 2, Weiser 3-9 11-11 18, Oldham 1-4 0-0 2, Walters 1-5 0-1 2, Larson 5-8 2-4 14, Williams 3-6 0-0 6. Totals 17-40 15-18 51.
Garden City (11-7, 3-3) — Tramp 4-7 0-0 8, Olivas 0-2 0-0 0, Koster 7-7 4-6 20, Hernandez 2-5 2-2 8, Nanninga 7-9 3-6 17, Rodriguez 2-3 0-0 4, Parr 1-1 1-2 3, Love 0-0 0-0 0, Gurrola 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-34 10-16 60.
3-point goals--Dodge City 4-9 (McGroaty 1-3, Weiser 1-2, Oldham 0-2, Larson 2-2), Garden City 4-6 (Olivas 0-1, Koster 2-2, Hernandez 2-3). Rebounds--Dodge City 16 (Larson 4), Garden City 19 (Rodriguez 5). Turnovers--Dodge City 9, Garden City 10. Fouls--Dodge City 15, Garden City 16. Fouled out--Dodge City (Walters). Technical fouls--Garden City (Tramp).