By Mike Pilosof
Arkansas City, KS-Garden City Head Coach Brady Trenkle called it the toughest loss he's endured in nearly 20 years of coaching.
Darnell Cowart recorded a double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds, state-tournament hero Cole Kinnamon netted 15, including a critical 3-pointer late in the second half, and Cowley County came back from five down in the final 34 seconds of regulation to stun the Broncbusters in overtime 85-81 Saturday night at W. S. Scott Auditorium.
"It's hard to win a game when you can't hit free throws," Trenkle said afterwards. "I told these guys in the locker room that they should be embarrassed missing 18 free throws."
Garden City (5-2, 1-2) finished the night 8-of-26 from the line. Even guys that normally make them were clanging them off the back iron.
"These guys know what they'll be doing on Sunday afternoon, I'll tell you that," Trenkle said. "If you want to play, you better be able to hit free throws."
Those struggles from the stripe left the door cracked for a Cowley County (6-1, 3-0) comeback, even after it appeared the Broncbusters had the game won in the final minute.
Kendale Hampton's midrange jumper gave Garden City a 70-65 lead with 34 seconds to go. But after Kinnamon cashed in a triple that pulled the Tigers to within two, the Broncusters most reliable free throw shooter fell victim to the mirage.
Russhard Cruickshank, who had not missed a freebie all season, rimmed both out, giving the Tigers new life with 20 seconds to play.
"Russhard played too many minutes tonight, and his legs were to blame there," Trenkle said.
With less than five seconds remaining, Cowart, the transfer from Glenadale, grabbed Kinnamon's missed runner and stuck it back home, tying the game at 70.
"Missed free throws and offensive rebounds killed us tonight," Trenkle said. "We should be 3-0."
Garden City still had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Kendale Hampton's 30-foot heave smacked off the backboard, sending the game into overtime.
"We beat ourselves tonight," Trenkle added. "It's nothing that Cowley did. We didn't hit free throws, and that's why we lost the game."
In the extra session, Hampton buried a 3-pointer and Jeff Otchere split a pair of free throws to give the Broncbusters a 76-73 advantage with 1:56 to play. But Cowley County answered right back with two Cowart free throws, Kinnamon followed with a tip in on the offensive glass, and the Tigers had took the lead for good 77-76.
"I've said it all along that I can't teach effort," Trenkle said. "Either you have it or you don't. And at times, we didn't have the effort we needed. Cowley played really hard."
The Tigers used an 8-0 run to build the lead to five before Hampton buried a corner 3 to cut the Cowley County advantage to 81-79 with 20 seconds left. But Jeremiah Starks and Kinammon drained four free throws in the final 15 seconds, completing a wild finish. It was the second straight game in which the Tigers overcame a deficit in the final minute of regulation to win. On Saturday, Gage Maacoy drilled a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left that lifted the home squad over Colby.
"I'd rather this happen in November," Trenkle said. "These guys will watch the film when we get back and see exactly where they lost this game. They will see all of those misses at the line."
Devante McGee scored 12 points off the bench for the Tigers, who are off to their best start since 2009. Cedric Rembert added 10 and Brenden Van Dyke added nine rebounds.
Hampton scored 20 points in 35 minutes to lead Garden City, who lost the game despite shooting 62 percent from the floor in the second half. Cruickshank hit four 3's to finish with 13 points and Jamir Thomas fought off foul trouble to score 10.
"We need to fix this now," Trenkle said. "We have a long way to go."
Garden City showed their resiliency over the first 20 minutes, falling down by as many as nine points following Starks pullup jumper. But they answered the bell with an 11-0 run, sparked by Cruickshank, who hit back-to-back treys to give the Broncbusters the lead 23-22 with 8:19 left in the half.
The lead changed hands four times in the opening period before Pierre Johnson splashed home a 2-pointer from the elbow to beat the buzzer, giving Garden City a 33-32 advantage heading into the break.