Garden City, KS-With more than a decade of experience on the bench, Jacy Holloway has seen his fair share of good teams through the years. But it will be tough to match what the 2018-2019 Buffaloes put together. And with one final push, Garden City put themselves in position to knock off perennial-power Lawrence.
In the end though, the magic that has defined the best season in a generation, disappeared when the brown and white needed it most.
Clarence King scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds, Zeke Mayo had 14, and fifth-ranked Lawrence advanced to the 6A state tournament with a 56-51 victory over the Buffaloes in the substate finals Friday night at Lions Field House.
“I’m very proud of this team and what they accomplished this season,” Holloway said. “This was definitely a special group.”
The Lions were heavy favorites entering this postseason tilt. And for more than 20 minutes, the game appeared extremely one sided with Trey Quartlebaum hitting a pair of first-half 3’s, and Clarence King converting two three-point plays, putting Lawrence up 27-13 at the break. The Lions closed the second period on a 14-4 run.
“Shots just weren’t falling for us in the first half,” Holloway explained. “I didn’t think we played poorly, but at some point, you have to hit shots.”
Garden City missed 18 of their first 24 shots and were 0-of-8 from 3 in the first half.
“When we went into the locker room, I didn’t get on them at all,” Holloway said. “Because they were playing well. We just needed to do some things offensively.”
Garden City definitely looked rejuvenated to start the third quarter. Kyler Lamb hit 2-of-3 free throws, Jarrod Springston nailed a 3 from the top of the key, and Jackson Dirks finished off a two-handed layup, polishing off a quick 7-0 blitz that had the Buffaloes within seven. But Lawrence answered the bell, scoring five straight to stretch the lead back to 12. Late in the period, Zeke Mayo drilled back-to-back triples, and the Lions had a 42-25 advantage.
“These guys did a tremendous job of not letting go,” Holloway said. “They gave themselves a chance when things weren’t going their way.”
The Buffaloes ended the third on a high note. Springston’s basket cut it to 15, and Carlos Acosta grabbed an offensive rebound before laying the ball in off the glass to make it a 42-29 game going to the fourth. Then, trailing by 15 in the final stanza, Acosta drained a 3, Lamb hit a layup and two free throws, and Springston converted a layup in transition to bring the Buffaloes within six, 46-40 with 5:08 to go.
“We turned up the pressure, and it seemed to bother Lawrence a bit,” Holloway said.
That half-court trap forced the Lions into seven, second-half turnovers, all the while igniting Garden City on the other end of the floor. The Buffaloes shot 14-of-25 (56 percent) and 5-of-9 from 3 (56 percent) over the final 16 minutes. Lamb, who was 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, drilled a step-back trey from the left wing that made it a five-point game, 50-45 with three minutes on the clock. After King hit 1-of-2 at the stripe for Lawrence, Acosta drained a rainbow 3 over Quartlebaum from the top of the key, making it a three-point contest.
“These guys deserve all the credit in the world,” Holloway said. “I’ve never coached a group of guys who were so united and did everything well together.”
After forcing another Lawrence turnover, the Buffaloes were in position to tie the game. And the man who had been one of the driving forces in a season that saw them win their most games in nearly 50 years, had the ball in his hands.
“We had the shot that we wanted,” Holloway said.
Everything was aligned.
After fumbling the ball away momentarily, Springston regained possession before firing a pass to Lamb on the left wing. The senior made a slight move to his left before hoisting up what looked to be the game-tying 3. But as Lamb held up his follow through, the ball clanged off the back rim. Mayo grabbed the rebound for Lawrence, and the Lions followed with four free throws to bump their lead back to seven.
“It’s unfortunate it has to end here, but these guys gave everything they had,” Holloway said.
Lamb still had no plans of going out quietly. The senior nailed a 3 with 18 seconds to go to cut it to four. After a missed free throw by the Lions, Springston had an open look for 3 from the top of the key. But the shot was off the mark, Lamb missed an open layup, and just like that, Garden City’s season was over.
“I don’t know if these guys realize what they’ve done for the Buffalo community,” Holloway said. “Really, basketball in general in Garden City.”
Lamb scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half for the Buffaloes, who watched their eight-game winning streak come to an end. Springston finished with 13, and Azavier Williams had 10 on 5-of-10 shooting.
(Trey) Quartlebaum scored 12 points for Lawrence, who advanced to the state tournament for the fifth straight season. Mayson Quartlebaum added eight.