By Mike Pilosof
Iola, KS-There's been one consistent thorn in Patrick Nee's side over the past two seasons: Allen County. And that didn't change on Saturday night.
Malik Hardmon scored 23 of his game-high 35 points in the second half, Cedric Rollerson added 18, and the Red Devils outlasted Garden City 94-81 at Allen Gymnasium.
"We have to grow up as a team," Nee said after the game. "We have to be more mature."
How talented is Garden City? Put it this way: they have been down by 22, 19 and 19 points this season to Midland, Otero and Allen. Each time, they put a serious scare into their opponent. Just imagine if they didn't continuously back themselves into a corner.
"I felt like Allen scrapped and clawed all game," Nee said. "That's normally what they do in this building. Coach (Andy) Shaw has done a really nice job."
Before the game got away from them in the second half, the Broncbusters went blow for blow with the Red Devils over the first 20 minutes. There were 10 lead changes in the opening period, the last for Garden City coming when Daishaun Woods completed a three-point play before dropping in a smooth left-handed hook, putting the Broncbusters up 24-21 with 7:54 remaining.
"To win in this league, we have to play a heck of a lot harder than we did tonight," Nee said. "That was our biggest issue."
Unfortunately, Garden City could never shake loose. Erlyn Ramirez cashed in a three-point play, Joel Boyce dropped in a midrange jumper and two free throws, and Hardmon went 4-of-4 at the stripe with an offensive rebound stick back that gave the home team a 42-34 edge with 21 seconds to play in the half. Allen was up seven at the intermission.
"We talked about putting some pressure on them to start the second half, and it was the complete opposite," Nee said.
Instead of coming out of the gates with a sense of urgency, Nee's team was a step slow in the second half. Hardmon drilled a 3 from the wing, Rollerson knifed inside for a three-point play before swishing a 3 from the corner, and Hardmon buried another long ball, giving Allen a 58-40 advantage five minutes into the final frame. They stretched that to 19 on Shakim Jenks' layup with 12:12 to go, making it 63-44.
"When you put yourself into that type of situation, you have to play almost a perfect game to come back," Nee explained. "I mean we crawled and scratched when we got way down, but it doesn't matter when you're down by that many points."
Garden City though did make things interesting.
As he did in Wednesday's comeback win over Cloud County, Kaleb Favors took control, scoring five quick points, including an and-1 layup that cut the deficit to 14. Favors added another scoop at the basket, Darius Roden grabbed Tahlik Chavez's missed triple from the left wing and punched it home, and Chavez dropped in two freebies at the line, making it 69-61 with 7:44 to go.
That's as close as they got the rest of the way.
Garden City failed to box out Hardmon on Allen's next possession, as the sophomore grabbed an offensive rebound and laid the ball in softly off the glass, stretching the lead back to 10. Then Trez Hankins hit 1-of-2 free throws after the Broncbuster bench was called for a technical foul, Hardmon added two more charity shots before throwing down two powerful dunks, and Allen was up 14 with 1:21 to play.
"This was definitely a learning experience," Nee said. "We have to get better from this. We've got the two best teams in the East coming to our place in Cowley and Coffeyville. So we can't all of the sudden let this thing slide before the break."
Boyce scored 15 points for Allen, who won their sixth straight game after a 1-4 start. They shot 44 percent from the field (31-of-70).
Favors paced the Broncbusters with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but Garden City missed all five of their 3-point attempts in the second half. Chavez scored 18, and Woods tallied 12 in 26 minutes before fouling out.
Next up: Garden City vs. Cowley-Saturday, Dec. 7-4 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app