By Mike Pilosof
Hutchinson, KS-For 20 minutes on Wednesday, the Broncbusters stood toe-to-toe with the defending national champs in their building.
But a five-minute stretch in the second half, sealed Garden City's fate.
J.J. Rhymes scored 21 points in 38 minutes, Devonte Bandoo, who hit the game winner vs. Garden City back in December, added 19, and No. 16 Hutchinson outlasted Garden City 92-82 Wednesday night at the Sports Arena.
"We lost this game early in the second half," Garden City Coach Brady Trenkle said. "I mean, I'm proud of our guys' effort tonight, but we just had some mental lapses that cost us."
The first 20 minutes featured an up-and-down affair that featured seven lead changes and five ties. Hutchinson (20-4, 16-4) built their largest advantage of the opening period when Bandoo hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, which was followed by Rhymes rhythm jump shot from the left baseline that put the Blue Dragons up 24-19 with 8:02 to play until the break. But the Broncbusters battled back, using a 9-4 run, capped with a layup by Elvis Harvey that knotted the score at 28.
"Give Hutchinson credit; they gave us their best hit tonight," Trenkle said. "But you can't turn the ball over and make mistakes against a team like that. They're playing really well right now."
The Blue Dragons again pushed the lead back to five in the final minute of the first half before Kendale Hampton splashed home a 3-pointer from the left wing that pulled the Broncbusters to within two at the intermission, 39-37.
"We felt good where we were at," Trenkle said. "But the way we started the second half killed us."
The Blue Dragons scored eight straight points out of the locker room, and when Bandoo hammered home a two-handed slam, Hutchinson had a 47-37 lead two minutes into the second half.
"Bandoo, who is probably one of the best players in the league along with J.J. Rhymes, was really good," Trenkle said."
Rhymes was the Broncbuster killer all night, silencing any Garden City run with the complete floor game. He scored 12 of his team-best 21 over the final 20 minutes, including a sensational three-point play in transition that stretched the lead to 64-49 with 10:50 to play. The home team was up by as many as 16 in the second half.
"Our effort tonight was so much better than Saturday," Trenkle said. "I'm proud of this team. We will be okay."
Despite the double-digit deficit, Garden City (15-9, 11-9) kept pushing, and Hampton's career night kept the brown and gold on life support. The sophomore's three-point play and two 3's in the final 2:44 pulled the Broncbusters to within seven. But Hutchinson salted the game away at the line, connecting on 20-of-26 free throws in the second half.
Hampton finished with 30 points and was 7-of-14 from long range.
"It seems like we always have a guy shoot lights out for us in this building," Trenkle said. "But we just couldn't get stops tonight when we needed them."
James Rojas had 19 points and nine rebounds for the Blue Dragons. Curtis Hollis tallied 19 off the bench, including a big jumper late when the Broncbusters had cut the lead to eight.
Next up: Garden City vs. Cloud County-Saturday, Feb. 10-4 p.m. on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app