By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-It didn't take very long for Garden City Coach Patrick Nee to figure out what went wrong on Saturday night.
The Broncbusters missed 13 of their 26 free throw attempts, Ryan Murphy led five New Mexico players in double figures with 19 points, and the Thunderbirds handed Garden City their third loss in four games 74-66 at Conestoga Arena.
"When you miss 13 free throws, that's never a good thing," Nee said. "That really hurt us."
The Broncbusters never led in the game, but trailed by only two at halftime. They managed to tie it at 37 on Jamir Thomas's free throws with 18:38 to play. Then, Garden City answered a New Mexico 3 with a long ball of their own when Traylynn Spencer drilled a triple to knot the game at 40. But after that, the Broncbusters went cold, scoring just four points over the next three minutes while New Mexico built an 11-point cushion once Malik Mooving hit a trey to make it 63-52 with 8:10 remaining.
"We were right there, and probably should have won this game," Nee said. "But we have to hit free throws. That's another story."
The Broncbusters made things close late, cutting the Thunderbirds' lead to four following Jaleel Simmons emphatic slam with 2:33 to go. But with a chance to make it a one-possession game, Tony Hopkins bricked two free throws before Deion Rhea made a transition layup off a Thomas turnover that put New Mexico up six.
"We did things that were very uncharacteristic of us," Nee said. "Jamir kind of reverted back to what he did as a freshman, throwing up a couple of wild shots. We can't do that kind of stuff."
Still, the stats were telling. Garden City missed all four of their free throw attempts in the final minute, and did not hit a shot over the final 2:39.
Darnell Rogers scored 14 points and hit three 3's for New Mexico, who, as a team, connected on 12-of-28 from deep. Mooving and Najja Hunter each scored 11, and Gideon George tallied 13 in 21 minutes off the bench.
Thomas was one of only two Broncbusters in double figures with 12 points but was just 4-of-11 from the field. Russhard Cruickshank, who missed two big free throws down the stretch, totaled 12, and was just 1-of-6 from 3.
"Russhard is really struggling from 3," Nee added. "This was a guy who led the league in percentage last year. We've got to figure that out."
Next up: Garden City at Cloud County-Wednesday, Nov. 28-8 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app