HAYS — Jacy Holloway wouldn’t be the first coach to tell you that something good comes out of a last-second loss.
Not when 0:00.6 seconds showing on the clock and the other team knocks down a pair of free throws to claim the win.
That’s what happened Friday night in the Garden City Buffaloes’ heartbreaking 60-58 setback to Class 6A No. 7-ranked Olathe North in the semifinals of the Hays City Shootout.
With the score tied on Jared Koster’s putback of a missed Caleb Tramp free throw with 20 seconds remaining, North worked the ball for a final shot.
It went inside to their massive 6-foot-5 senior center Josh Moore, who drove to the basket and collided with Garden’s Akil Love. Love was left flattened out on the floor while Moore had headed straight for the basket.
A block or a charge, that was the question.
In this case, Love was called for the block foul to send Moore to the free-throw line with nary any time left. But Moore, who had made only 3-of-6 freebies up to that point, calmly swished both charities and a last-fraction of a second heave by Tramp was off the mark, sending North into tonight’s championship game against Hays, 54-50 winners over Great Bend in Friday’s late semifinal. Garden gets Great Bend in a consolation game at 3:15 p.m. today for third place.
The mere fact that the game was decided in the final tick of the clock was nothing short of a miracle for the Buffs as they were given up for dead with just more than two minutes left in the third quarter, down by 19 points, 52-33, and struggling to stay within shouting distance of the highly-regarded Eagles.
But with Tramp, the 6-foot-5 senior forward, leading the way, the Buffs began the long comeback road right before the end of the third when Tramp knocked in two late baskets, including a rim-rattling slam dunk after he stole a pass and went the distance.
Still, the Buffs were down by 15, 52-37, with only the 8 minutes of the final quarter left to be played.
“We got out of a passive zone and we were able to pick them up more,” Holloway said of the comeback.
Tramp was the spark plug on offense, where he had a career high 29 points while also grabbing 10 rebounds.
“It just shows that we can play with anybody when we play that hard,” Tramp said afterward. “We were down 19, we had foul trouble on the bench, but this shows what we’re capable of doing. Coach (Holloway) has been telling that to us all along in practice.”
It was still a 13-point deficit for the Buffs at the 4:47 mark of the fourth at 56-43. A 3-point play by Love and another bucket by Tramp made it 56-48 at the 4:02 mark. A 7-2 spurt over the next 2 minutes, 23 seconds pulled the Buffs to within three, 58-55, at the 1:31 mark on Tramp’s two free throws.
North then missed three consecutive free throws to keep the Buffs’ comeback alive. Tramp made the first of two charity attempts, missed the second, but the 5-foot-10 inch Koster slipped inside for the rebound and somehow was able to stick the shot back in, knotting the score at 58.
That set the stage for the final nerve-racking seconds.
“It’s hard to see the kids’ effort not be fully rewarded,” Holloway said. “But we’ll beat a lot of teams if we play that way. I don’t think we handled their pressure very well early (nine first-half turnovers, only two in the second half). I thought we got more aggressive, and I thought we figured out a couple of things that would work against them.”
The game’s beginning had all the appearances of an Indy 500 road race, both teams trading baskets at will, and North finishing with a 23-22 lead after 8 minutes of a wild-and-wooly first quarter.
That’s when the Buffs cooled down only to see the Eagles continue to soar, getting outscored 15-7 to fall behind 38-29 at the half.
“I still liked the position we were in, being down nine,” Holloway said. “I didn’t think we by any means were out of it at that point.”
But most of the third period belonged to the Eagles, who kept applying pressure to the Buffs, eventually padding their margin to that 19-point plateau, at which point the Buffs resuscitated and came back to life for what can only be described as an inspired eight minutes.
“We kinda let our heads down for a moment, but we got them back up and kept fighting,” Tramp said. “We kept giving 100 percent and I’m really proud of the team for the way we hung in there. We almost got ‘em.”
Tramp was spectacular in every category, hitting 10-of-18 field goals (4 of 8 from 3-point range), was 5 of 6 at the free-throw line, and pulled down the 10 boards for a double-double. Love was the only other Buffs’ player to reach double figures, finishing with 10 points.
North had a balanced scoring effort with Moore leading the way with 17 points. R.J. Smith had 15, followed by Alonzo Williams with 12. The Buffs battled the big North frontline to a near standoff on the boards, losing that by only a 25-24 margin.
The Eagles hit a blistering 58.3 percent of their field goals, connecting on 21-of-36 attempts. The Buffs, meanwhile, were a respectable 19 of 44 for 43.1 percent.
Olathe North (2-0) — Burgess 0-1 0-0 0, Baker 1-4 0-0 2, M. Williams 1-2 2-2 5, A. Williams 4-6 3-5 12, Byers 1-3 0-1 3, Moore 6-10 5-8 17, Smith 5-6 5-12 15, Thompkins 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 21-36 15-28 60.
Garden City (1-1) — Tramp 10-18 5-6 29, Olivas 1-6 0-0 3, Koster 3-10 1-4 8, Reyes 1-2 0-0 2, Leal 1-1 2-2 4, Rodriguez 1-2 0-0 2, Love 2-3 5-6 10, Acosta 0-0 0-0 0, Aguilar 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-44 13-18 58.
Olathe North 23 15 14 8 — 60
Garden City 22 7 8 21 — 58
3-point goals—North 3-7 (Baker 0-2, M. Williams 1-1, A. Williams 1-2, Byers 1-2), Garden City 7-17 (Tramp 4-8, Olivas 1-5, Koster 1-3, Love 1-1). Rebounds—North 25 (Thompkins 9), Garden City 24 (Tramp 10). Turnovers—North 14, Garden City 11. Fouls—North 20, Garden City 18. Fouled out—Garden City (Rodriguez).