By Mike Pilosof
Concordia, KS-Numbers do not lie.
Going into their road showdown at Cloud County, Garden City was averaging nearly 10 points per game fewer and shooting six percentage-points worse compared to their 14 home games. Saturday night did nothing to disprove those metrics.
Aamahne Santos filled up the box score with 23 points, three rebounds, six assists and three steals as Cloud County ended a three-game losing streak with an 80-70 win over Garden City at Arley Bryant Gymnasium.
"We've got guys complaining when they're coming off the floor," Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle said. "We forgot how to win; plain and simple."
The Broncbusters have dropped three straight games, their longest streak of the season.
"I have guys forgetting sets on the floor," Trenkle added. "This is stuff that we continuously work on in practice."
Garden City's (15-10, 11-10) cold shooting put them behind the eight ball early. Trenkle's squad misfired on 14 of their 19 shots from the floor. That poor percentage turned an early two-point lead into a 10-point deficit once Santos completed a four-point play after he was fouled by Josh Fleming shooting a 3-pointer. It was the finishing touches on an 11-0 run that put Cloud County up 16-6 with 14 minutes to go in the first half. That cushion ballooned to as many as 15 with 8:55 remaining.
"I don't know what it is about some of these slow starts on the road," Trenkle said. "We score 70 points and we average 90 on the year. It's incredible."
The Broncbusters finally got on track, scoring nine straight to cut the deficit to six. And even after Cloud County (16-9, 12-9) pushed the advantage back to 12, it was Garden City closing the first half strong, holding the Thunderbirds scoreless the final 1:24 and scoring nine of the final 11 points of the opening period, including Jamar Gilbert's buzzer-beating trey in the left corner to pull to within five at the break.
"We are in every game," Trenkle said. "But we make so many fundamental mistakes that it's mind boggling."
Even more perplexing was free-throw shooting. Garden City was a season-worst 9-of-25 from the line including 4-of-15 in the second half.
"It's all in their heads," Trenkle said. "I've got guys who are shooting 80 percent missing. The next game we will probably hit 90 percent. It's hit and miss with this team."
Garden City closed to within three in the first 90 seconds of the second half following Fleming's jumper. But that was as close as they got the rest of the way, and those 16 missed freebies definitely had a hand in that.
With their lead trimmed to 40-37, Jordan McNelly answered the bell for Cloud County. The redshirt freshman from Salina scored eight straight points before Andrew Ballock splashed home a 3-pointer to cap an 11-0 run that put the Thunderbirds on top 58-41 with 13:20 to play. Deon Lyle splashed home two free throws two minutes later to stretch the lead to 19.
"It's puzzling sometimes to watch this team," Trenkle said. "You've got guys out there doing their own thing, going one-on-four. But that's basketball today."
Down but not out, the Broncbusters made one more push to try and get back in the game. A 25-12 surge sparked by two 3-pointers in the final minute got Garden City to within six. But Cloud County put the game away, nailing five free throws in the final 22 seconds to ice it.
The remarkable stat was this: Cloud County managed just one field goal over the final nine minutes, scoring their final nine points of the game from the line.
"I thought they missed a few calls," Trenkle said. "But even so, would we have made the free throws? I wasn't very confident that we would have."
Garden City heated up after that cold start, finishing the game shooting 52 percent on 22-of-43 from field over the final 30 minutes of play. It still was not enough.
Lyle, the conference's eighth-leading scorer, netted 13 for Cloud County, who earned a season split with Garden City. Ramion Burt Jr. added 12 and McNelly scored eight of his 11 during a two-minute stretch midway through the second half.
Next up: Garden City vs. Pratt-Wednesday, Feb. 15-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app