HAYS — After watching his team nearly rally for what would have been a stirring victory in Friday night’s semifinal of the Hays City Shootout, Garden City Buffaloes’ boys basketball coach Jacy Holloway was unsure how his team would react to a mid-afternoon third-place game against a familiar Western Athletic Conference foe in Great Bend.
Saturday’s third-place battle certainly didn’t have the intensity of Friday’s 60-58 loss to Class 6A’s No. 7-ranked Olathe North team. But it nonetheless had its own level of importance to Holloway and his Buffs.
That’s why when the Buffs produced a methodical 41-30 victory over the Panthers to finish their first weekend of the 2014-15 season with a 2-1 mark, Holloway was pleased with how his team performed.
“You’re always a little nervous when you have to come back and play somebody so quickly,” Holloway said. “And then you’re playing a team that you’re familiar with, and you know how tough the games have been recently.”
Great Bend’s Chris Battin plays a patient offense and zone defense, usually resulting in low scoring and few fouls. The Panther head coach got both, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the pinpoint free-throw shooting of the Buffs down the stretch of the fourth quarter.
It was just a four-point Garden lead with 2:14 remaining when Great Bend began fouling. The Buffs calmly sank 7-of-8 charities in the final 1 minute, 23 seconds to ice the victory, as well as turning their defensive pressure up a notch, forcing two Great Bend turnovers in the final two minutes.
“I thought our defensive effort was good today, and it has been good for the most part during the tournament,” Holloway said.
In a low-scoring affair, not untypical of the Panthers and Buffs, Garden City led 17-6 after one quarter and then the pace slowed, with the Panthers closing to 23-18 at halftime.
Luis Rodriguez got six of his 10 points in the first quarter, including a steal and slam dunk just before the end of the quarter, providing the Buffs with a double-digit lead.
“He got the dunk, got some key blocks and he really helped us a lot,” said junior guard Jared Koster, the team’s leading scorer with 17 points.
The offensive output turned colder in the third quarter, with both teams combining for just seven points, with the Buffs clinging to a 27-21 lead after three periods.
Great Bend did close to within a field goal at 29-27 with an early fourth-quarter spurt, but the Buffs responded with a 12-3 run to close out the game. Big plays came on Caleb Tramp’s 3-pointer when it was 29-27, and then Luis Rodriguez, playing his best game of the tournament, came up big with three blocks and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
“Great Bend’s one of those teams that just does a lot of weird things,” said Koster, who made 3-of-6 3-point shots. “They try to make it ugly, so we just had to try and stick to playing our game.”
Koster said the run that Great Bend made at the Buffs in the early fourth period came as a result of the Panthers’ aggressiveness to the basket.
“They were doing a better job of getting penetration, but we then were able to stop that,” Koster said.
The Buffs’ defense was instrumental in the victory, limiting the Panthers’ hot-shooting 6-4 sophomore Kody Crosby to just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, including 1 of 5 from behind the arc. Crosby had lit up the Buffs last February in Great Bend with 28 points in a one-point Panther victory.
“I thought Akil (Love) did a great job on Crosby, and the others really helped a lot on keeping him from getting the ball,” Holloway said.
Trey Ibarra’s 11 points were high for the Panthers.
“We try to affect what they do, but they do a good job of sticking with what they can give themselves,” Holloway said of the Panthers. “They’re very patient. We try to speed them up, but that wasn’t working. I think a big key late was we finally got some rebounds. We gave up way too many early.”
In other final-day action, Olathe North defeated Hays, 45-32, for the championship; Newton dropped DeSoto, 40-32, for fourth place while TMP-Marian outscored Colby, 75-50, for seventh place.
After opening the season with the three consecutive games, the Buffs get a little respite to prepare for another three-day run, starting Thursday in the Southwest Classic. They open against Pueblo (Colo.) East at 7:45 p.m. at The Garden. On Friday, they will host Wichita Trinity, and then on Saturday will close out the Classic with its Ark River Rivalry game against Finney County rival, Holcomb.
Garden City (2-1) — Tramp 2-6 1-2 7, Olivas 1-3 2-2 5, Koster 5-11 4-4 17, Reyes 0-1 0-0 0, Leal 0-2 0-2 0, Rodriguez 5-8 0-0 10, Harp 0-0 0-0 0, Love 0-3 2-2 2, Aguilar 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-34 9-12 41.
Great Bend (1-2) — Ibarra 3-11 3-3 11, Crosby 3-10 1-2 8, Sullivan 1-5 1-1 3, Wondra 2-8 0-0 4, Bryant 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 10-38 7-8 30.
Garden City 17 6 4 14 — 41
Great Bend 6 12 3 9 — 30
3-point goals—Garden City 6-14 (Tramp 2-4, Olivas 1-2, Koster 3-6, Love 0-2), Great Bend 3-16 (Ibarra 2-7, Crosby 1-5, Sullivan 0-4). Rebounds—Garden City 26 (Rodriguez 7), Great Bend 26 (Bryant 8). Turnovers—Garden City 11, Great Bend 15. Fouls—Garden City 9, Great Bend 11. Fouled out—none.