By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Shortly before Wednesday night's game against Cowley County, Victor Dukes approached his coach and told him that he was not feeling well.
"He was very sick," Garden City Head Coach Brady Trenkle said. "I wish I would have known sooner."
Dukes played, but was nowhere near 100 percent.
"He apologized to me for being sick," Trenkle said. "He is such a good kid; people don't really know."
On Saturday, Dukes was back at full strength, and no defense on the planet could stop him.
Dukes scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half and pulled down 16 rebounds, Josh Fleming netted a game-high 25, and Garden City held on to beat Allen County 95-84 at the Perryman Athletic Complex.
"Victor was unstoppable," Trenkle said. "When he is going like that, it's unbelievable."
And he had the entire repertoire on full display.
Entering their showdown with the Red Devils, Dukes had hit only two 3-pointers in Garden City's first 20 games. On Saturday, he drilled two in the first six minutes, scoring 10 points during a 13-0 run that put the Broncbusters up 20-6 with 13:20 left in the first half.
"He (Dukes) was all over the floor," Trenkle said.
Dukes was far from finished. His steal and layup with 7:56 remaining in the opening frame gave Garden City (14-7, 10-7) a 29-15 edge. His bucket four minutes later stretched the lead to 15 before Jefkins Agyeman Budu's layup gave the Broncbusters their largest cushion of the first half 43-26.
"We were so good in that first half," Trenkle said. "But we knew Allen was going to make a run."
Before the Red Devils surged back, one had to admire Dukes first-half stat line: 19 points, nine rebounds, one steal and 7-of-11 shooting. Not bad for 17 minutes of work.
"Victor is one of the best players in the league," Trenkle said. "He can do so many different things."
Dukes' sensational first half had the Broncbusters up 12 the break. But the Red Devils, who were torched by 27 on their home floor back in November by Garden City, nearly pulled off a monumental shocker.
The Red Devils, who did not record a single offensive rebound in the first half, finally had one in the first two minutes of the second when Ithello Cross grabbed a miss and stuck it back home. It was a sign of things to come.
Cross kept coming, and his powerful slam four minutes into the period cut the Broncbusters once 17-point lead down to five 49-44. Daron Mims chiseled it down to three.
"I challenged these guys," Trenkle said. "I told them that this is a must-win game for you. You can't let this one slip away."
Fleming responded with a 3-pointer and Ben Howze added a three-point play to push the lead back to nine. But Allen's push was just beginning.
Eventually the Red Devils tied the game at 61 on Jah-Kobe Womack's steal and layup with 11 minutes to play in the game. The next time down the floor, Womack was fouled and had a chance to give Allen County their first lead. But the front end of the one-and-one drifted left. Fleming answered with two freebies of his own before Aaron Ray's three-point play gave Garden City a three-point lead.
"We just had to keep answering," Trenkle said. "Allen was making everything in that second half."
Trenkle was not kidding. The Red Devils shot 21-of-38 (56 percent) over the final 20 minutes, and tied the game once more when Quentin Blaue, who came into the night shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, buried a trey from the left corner to even the score at 70 with 6:48 remaining.
"We covered him (Blaue) well in the first half," Trenkle said. "But it's hard to stay with him for 40 minutes."
As they did the first time that the Red Devils tied it, the Broncbusters countered with another haymaker. Howze's spectacular three-point play followed Naradain James two free throws and Ray's floater gave Garden City a 77-70 lead. They pushed it to eight with 3:11 to play.
"Every time we thought the game was over, they came right back," Trenkle said.
Blaue drained another 3-pointer, E.J. Garnes grabbed an offensive rebound before setting up Mims for a layup; then Ahmad Winston split a pair of free throws to pull the Red Devils to within two 83-81 with 1:55 to play. But that's as close as Allen County (10-11, 7-10) would get.
Ray's powerful and-1 layup, James two free throws, and Fleming's coldblooded trey from the top with the shot clock winding down in the final 20 seconds, preserved the Broncbusters 11th home-win of the season.
"Hutchinson is going to win the league," Trenkle said. "Everybody knows that. We are fighting for second place, and our guys are well aware."
What Dukes started in the first half, Fleming rightfully finished in the second, scoring 18 of his 25 points after the break for Garden City, who completed the season sweep of the Red Devils. He was 7-of-8 from the field and 3-of-4 from long range. Howze scored 18 points and pulled down six rebounds and James added 12 and eight boards.
Mims, the conference's fourth-highest scorer, tallied 13 of his team-best 19 points in the second half for Allen County, who dropped their second straight game. Womack scored 14 while E. J Garnes chipped in 12 and six dimes.
Next up: Garden City at Independence-Wednesday, Feb. 1-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app