HAYS, Kan. - On Jan. 14, Great Bend gave up the lead late and lost at rival Hays High by two points. The defeat dropped the Panthers to 5-4 and ended their goal of a perfect Western Athletic Conference season. However, coach Tim Brooks saw a shift in his veteran squad that features eight seniors.
Since then, the Panthers have delivered nine straight victories, including an 80-68 victory Tuesday versus Thomas More Prep-Marian in a non-league game at Al Billinger Fieldhouse. GB, paced by 31 points from senior Alex Schremmer, recorded a season high for points and continued a big turnaround after multiple years of sub-.500 seasons.
“Right there, I think that our guys thought, ‘You know what, we have got a chance to be good,’” Brooks said of the Hays defeat. “And they believe in their abilities, and why not? Because they have put a lot of time in, and they play well together.”
Great Bend’s winning streak includes quality victories versus Kapaun (60-52) and Wichita Collegiate (60-35) in the semifinals and finals, respectively of the Bluestem Classic in El Dorado. As well, the Panthers picked up a 60-56 home win versus Hays High on Feb. 11.
Last week, the Panthers moved into the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings at ninth in 5A. In the latest poll released Tuesday, GB (14-4) bumped to eighth. TMP, tied for tenth in the 3A rankings, lost its second straight to a ranked team and fell to 13-4. On Saturday, the Monarchs fell at home to Sacred Heart, ranked second in 2A, though without top scorer Tate Herrenbruck because of a season-ending knee injury.
“I had some concerns coming into tonight’s game after kind of the way we played against Sacred Heart,” TMP coach Bill Meagher said. “I didn’t love our attitude, and I didn’t love some of what went on. But tonight none of that was there, and I thought the guys played hard. I thought they played together, and I thought they solved problems out there and found a way to continue to compete as the game went on.”
Great Bend’s top eight players are all seniors: starters Schremmer, Peyton Duvall, Ray Kuhlman, Alex Olivas and Dalton Miller, and key reserves Sam Ryan, Nick Wondra, and Bryce Brown. Schremmer and Miller have both signed with Fort Hays football. The rotation is all between 5-foot-9 and 6-foot-3.
All but Kuhlman are returning starters for Brooks, in his fourth year as GB’s head coach. Much of the senior nucleus has played together for many seasons, including the pre-high school ranks.
Schremmer entered Tuesday at 19.2 points per game. He is in reach of Great Bend’s single season scoring average of 20.1 points a contest. The victory marked Schremmer’s 35th double-figure game as a Panther and 14th this year, according to GB broadcaster Patrick Burnett.
“The seniors, love being around those guys as well,” Brooks said. “A lot of people talk about family, but we are truly a family, and sometimes families don’t always get along, and that’s been the case, too. But just great kids and great chemistry.”
The Panthers were 4-17 two years ago and 9-13 last winter. This season marks GB’s first non-losing record since a 10-10 mark in 2010-11, according to MaxPreps archives. In the first HHS meeting, Brooks was pleased with his team’s response against the Indians’ massive front line of 6-6, 6-7 and 6-10.
“They really came out, smacked us in the mouth early, and we withstood it,” Brooks said.
Great Bend finishes the regular season with a road contest versus Dodge City on Friday, and a home game against Liberal on Saturday. If GB wins both, it will clinch no worse than a share of the conference title.
“It almost made us tougher,” Brooks said of the defeat. “Because we knew that if we had to have a chance to win, we probably needed to win out. We’ve still got two tough ones back-to-back, so we are going to have to be at our best.”
On Tuesday, Great Bend scored the game’s first six points and never trailed. GB forced nine first-quarter turnovers and led 19-11. Schremmer sat nearly all of the final 4 minutes, 28 seconds before halftime because of foul trouble. Still, the Panthers led 37-27 at intermission.
Eight players tallied at least one rebound in the contest. Seven Panthers delivered an assist. Schremmer finished with five steals, five assists and three rebounds. Ryan recorded three assists. Overall, GB shot 67 percent from the field and 47 percent (9 of 19) from 3-point range.
“Their shooting was really, really quality tonight,” Meagher said. “They just spread the ball side to side, make it really hard to guard stuff. Schremmer is just a really, really nice player. We tried to take him totally out of the game, and obviously you can tell we didn’t do a very good job with that. Just a well-coached team, and a good team.”
Compared to last season, Brooks has been pleased with the Panthers’ rebounding improvement and toughness. GB was even on the glass versus TMP and its 6-7 senior forward Carson Jacobs.
“Their ability to play defense, and then get out and push the pace,” Brooks said of his team’s greatest strengths. “We have got athletes that can run and defend, and we are not that big, but we are tough, and that’s a feeling that comes to the forefront and has led us to this nice little run.”
Schremmer often used his incredible first step quickness to work by TMP defenders and score inside. Early in the third quarter, he bumped the lead to 41-27 on a great hesitation move. In the fourth, the Monarchs cut the lead to 64-54. However, Schremmer, on the left baseline, drove straight to the basket, and scored a reverse layup around two defenders. Schremmer drew the foul and sunk the foul shot.
“He is deceiving and he sets people up with different ball fakes and jabs,” Brooks said. “He works hard on things like that, and not just getting on the gun and shooting. He’s a pretty complete point guard.”
Additionally, Miller finished with 14 points. Known for his defense, Miller contained Collegiate’s high-level Division I prospect Gradey Dick earlier this year. This time, Miller held TMP junior standout Jackson Schulte to two points in the first half. Schulte finished with 14; he averages around 18. Duvall, who is above double figures for the winter, tallied 10.
“(Miller) has got a knack for taking the scouting report and understanding their strengths and their weaknesses,” Brooks said. “And he’s just got such a desire to stop the opponent. Those guys that are assigned to those good basketball players deserve a lot of credit, but we always talk about not one person can guard the ball. It takes five, so we’ve got to be in the right position with the other four guys.”