GCCC falls to Barton in final seconds free throws
GREAT BEND - Barton County Coach Craig Fletchall has been around the game for a long time. In a career that has spanned almost three decades, the Hutchinson native has always had a few tricks up his sleeve. On Wednesday night, he went deep into his bag, and it cost the Broncbusters dearly.
Jaheim Holden scored 25 points including two free throws with .5 seconds remaining, and Barton stunned Garden City Community College, 81-80, in the Region VI quarterfinals at the Kirkman Center. The Broncbusters season ended at a 9-13 record.
"This loss was on me," a dejected Cole Dewey said afterwards. "Our guys won the game, and I lost it for them in the end."
And the look on the first-year coach's face said it all. His team was all set to advance, and in the blink of an eye, their season was done. It was an incredible wave of emotion, one that saw the highest of highs and the lowest of lows all bottled up into one second of basketball; one second that seemed like an eternity.
Trailing by two after Justin Harmon hit a fallaway jumper with three seconds remaining, it appeared that the Broncbusters had reached the end of the road. But after a timeout, point guard KJ Marshall raced into the frontcourt and somehow squeezed a pass to Jaduhkiss Soto along the right sideline, who then turned and fired from 22 feet. As the shot went up, the official called a foul on Willie Lapoole, sending the transfer from Otero to the free throw line with a chance to put Garden City up with .5 seconds to play. The sophomore, who stepped to the stripe shooting a conference best 91 percent, drained all three, and as he walked towards half court, he not so subtly put a finger to his mouth to quiet the crowd. It was one of those iconic moments that could have cemented a true Cinderella story.
Fletchall had other ideas.
With his team on life support with .5 seconds on the clock, the veteran coach called a timeout. In the huddle, he instructed Holden to set a screen on the baseline if someone was guarding the man inbounding the ball. That someone was Mohamed Diarra.
"He (Diarra) should never have been put in that situation," Dewey explained.
When play resumed, Holden darted to the baseline and purposely undercut Diarra. The freshman post reacted by trying to fight over the dummy screen. A split second later, a foul was called. Holden put two arms in the air, calmly walked to the line and sank the two biggest free throws of his career to send Barton to the final four.
Try to wrap your head around this: there were two lead changes with less than a second to go, all perpetuated by the guys in the zebra tops. Two lead changes initiated by free throws. In the end, it was a crushing reality for Dewey and his players, who were that close to playing in the semifinals for just the second time in the past 12 years.
"I told Mohamed to be on the ball," Dewey said. "It's not his fault at all. It was my fault. I told him that there wasn't anyone there to screen him so you're good. But if somebody comes, be aware. But I should never have had anyone on the ball."
The final seconds will be all that most remember about this instant classic, but there were plenty of plot twists beforehand; most notably Denver Jones, who had to sit the final 9:22 after he was called for his fifth foul-a questionable charge that had Dewey incensed.
"I give our guys a lot of credit," Dewey said. "Denver fouled out, and they came to play. They had his back."
Before he went out, Jones helped Garden City climb out of a nine-point second-half hole, and his gorgeous blow by of Shawn Warrior with 12 minutes to play pulled the Broncbusters within three. Mason Osborne followed with a steal and layup, Rodney "June" Lewis grabbed Soto's missed 3 from the right wing and laid it home, Soto nailed an 18-footer from inside the right arc, and the Broncbusters had a 66-63 advantage on the backing of an 18-6 run. But Barton quickly responded with eight straight points, the last of those coming when Holden was fouled shooting a three. The sophomore hit three freebies, and the Cougars were up 71-66 with 4:51 to play.
Garden City needed a quick answer, and Soto delivered. The sophomore drilled a 3 from the top of the key before Lewis splashed home a 23-footer from the left side that tied the game at 72.
"I can't say it enough, these guys won this game. I lost it for them. It was my mistake."
Garden City had their chances to close the deal even before those final seconds. With the score tied at 77, Holden misfired on a midrange jumper and Diarra grabbed the rebound. Then, with the shot clock winding down, Marshall hoisted a triple from the right wing, a shot that hung in the air for a lifetime. As it made its decent towards the rim, the ball spun through the cylinder before rattling back out, and Asanti Price grabbed the loose ball for Barton. After Fletchall called a timeout, Harmon hit the go-ahead jumper with three seconds remaining.
"I've seen some crazy finishes before," Dewey mentioned. "When you're around this game long enough, you'll see a lot."
The first half played out much the same.
Trailing by three four minutes in, Garden City found its groove. Soto came off the bench to nail two 3's, Jasman Sangha hit a lefty hook and converted a second-chance opportunity, and Soto connected with Jones on a beautiful alley-oop to put the Broncbusters up 31-22 with 4:40 to play in the period. But the Cougars answered with a loud thud. Price drained a 3 from the wing, and Cameron Brooks-Harris swished a trey from the corner, capping off an 11-0 surge that put Barton in front 33-31. It was part of a bigger 19-3 blitz, and when Holden canned a 28-footer with five seconds on the clock, Barton had completed a 14-point swing, turning a nine-point deficit into a 41-36 halftime lead.
"After we faced adversity during that losing streak at the end of the season, we got our minds right," Dewey said. "We were finally becoming the team that I thought we could be all year."
Soto poured in a season-high 23 points on 6-of-12 shooting in 33 minutes for Garden City, which closed the season by losing seven out of their final eight games. Lewis scored 11, and Jones tallied 10 in just 24 minutes.
Harmon scored 16 for Barton, which advanced to the semifinals for the fourth time in five years. Desean Munson added 15 points, and Price chipped in nine off the bench.