By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Rarely does a guy with one point have a big impact on a game. Well, consider Jeff Otchere the exception to the rule.
Otchere's block on Ke'Sean Davis in the waning seconds of regulation erased what would have been a game-winning layup, Russhard Cruickshank scored 21 points, including a big 3 in overtime, and Garden City survived to beat Seward County 75-72 Monday night at Conestoga Arena. With the win, the Broncbusters clinched the No. 5 seed in the Region VI tournament and will open with Allen County at home Thursday night.
"This was a lot of fun," sophomore guard Pierre Johnson said. "Seward County has one heck of a defense, and we stood up when we had to."
Garden City (19-11, 15-11) appeared to be well on their way to another statement win, building a 12-point lead once Elvis Harvey completed a three-point play with 10:36 remaining in the second half. But Seward County (17-13, 13-13) roared back with 10 straight points, which was part of a 20-4 run that was polished off with back-to-back 3-pointers by Terrell Alfred, putting the Saints up 60-56 with 3:24 to go.
"A few weeks ago, if a team went on that type of run, it would keep going," Johnson said. "But we came together when we needed to and got it done."
After Garden City endured two separate 10-0 runs over a four-minute stretch in the second half, Cruickshank delivered a breath of fresh air, drilling a trey from the left wing that pulled the Broncbusters to within one. A Couple of possessions later, Jamir Thomas hit a baseline jumper, and the home squad was back up one, 61-60 with 1:45 left.
"We didn't panic," Head Coach Brady Trenkle said. "We've been in this situation before, and to get a win like this, in a close game was big."
But the Saints were not dead just yet.
Following Thomas's free throw that put Garden City up by two, Devin Bethely knifed inside, went right into Cruickshank and finished at the basket with a foul. The freshman's ensuing freebie put the Saints up a point before Alfred picked Cruickshank's pocket and laid it in for a 65-62 Seward County advantage with 35 seconds remaining.
"I told our guys that if we lost the game, there were several areas that we could have pointed to as to why," Trenkle said. "But they should feel good that they were able to pull it out."
Down by 3, Trenkle put the ball in Hampton's hands, and the sophomore delivered.
Using one dribble to create separation from Hegel Augustin, Hampton launched a 26-foot bomb that swished through the net, tying the game at 65 with 21 seconds left.
"We have plenty of shooters on this team," Johnson said. "We are a totally different team the last couple of games."
The Saints had one more chance to win the game in regulation. But Otchere swatted Davis's layup attempt, and after the ball tipped out to Bethely near half court, the freshman's 40-foot heave hit the top of the backboard, sending the game into overtime.
"I thought he (Davis) was going to make the layup before Jeff came over and swatted it," Johnson said with a smile. "That's what happens when you have the nation's top shot blocker on your team."
Otchere's block preserved the tie. The sharpshooters proceeded to win it in overtime.
Cruickshank hit a 3-pointer on the first possession of the extra period, Hampton hit a tough midrange jumper over Bethely, and Johnson hit four clutch free throws in the final 2:45, as Garden City completed a season sweep of the Saints.
"We have a lot of confidence," Johnson said. "Our goal is to win a championship, and we are ready to keep going."
Johnson watched his team survive three different double-digit surges by Seward County, including in the first half, when Garden City built a 21-13 advantage only to have the Saints rattle off 13 straight points and eventually build a seven-point lead once Julian Santamaria drilled a long ball from the right wing. But as they did in the second half, Garden City came right back, closing the half on a 12-4 run with Hampton's two free throws giving the Broncbusters a 34-33 edge at the intermission.
Cruickshank tied a season-high with 6 3s, as Garden City broke the single-season record for triples made. They have now hit 238 on the year. Thomas tallied 17 points and seven rebounds, and Hampton chipped in 12.
Alfred scored 19 points for Seward County, who watched their three-game winning streak come to an end. Karel Trunecek hit two 3's and finished with a season-best 14 points, and Bethely added 11 off the bench.
"Now it becomes real," Trenkle said. "Now if you lose, you're done, and I don't want this season to end. This is a fun group to coach, and our goal is to get a ring."
Next up: Garden City vs. Allen County (Region VI 1st round)-Thursday, March 1-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app