For the better portion of 3 ½ quarters, the Great Bend High School Panthers matched defending Western Athletic Conference champion and current leader Dodge City on Friday night at Panther Fieldhouse.
Yet the difference on this night came during the final three minutes after Great Bend point guard Will Gray hit a driving layup to slash the margin to 45-40.
The Red Demons, who have now won 13 straight WAC games, dating back to last season, answered emphatically. Guard Benito Sotelo made a slick feed to power forward Bruce Campbell for a basket at the 2:11 mark for a 47-40 lead, and standout guard Rico Hogan hit a layup and a pair of free throws as Dodge pulled away at the end for a 55-43 victory.
“I thought we played well and when you play good teams, you have to play your best,” Great Bend head coach Chris Battin, whose team dropped to 9-8 overall and 3-3 in WAC play. “You can’t make little mistakes and you can’t have mental errors.
“When you get past those errors, you’re able to beat good teams. Dodge proved that by closing out the game on us. We can battle, and we just have to be ready to go every night.”
Dodge City, which went undefeated during WAC play in winning the crown last season improved to 15-2 overall and 5-0 in the conference.
And, one might be hard-pressed to find a better backcourt duo around than Hogan and Trey Hallman. Hogan hit 8 of 15 field goals, including 3 for 8 on 3-pointers, and finished with a game-high 21 points. Hallman and Campbell finished with 13 points apiece.
“I’m proud of them,” Dodge City head coach Dennis Hamilton said. “Those two guys in the backcourt are pretty solid. Trey’s got the ball in his hands and he’s our pure point guard. Trey and Rico kind of feed off each other and we’ve got a nice chemistry right now. We really do.
“Rico is playing with a lot of confidence and more times than not, he helps jump-start our offense and when we needed a basket, he did some things going to the basket and hit some 3s. He also hit a couple mid-range jumpers.”
Great Bend’s junior shooting guard, Jace Bowman, scored a season-high 16 points, hitting 6 of 14 field goals, including four three-point hits. The slashing Gray finished with 10 points, hitting 3 of 5 shots from the floor and 3 for 6 at the free-throw line, where the Panthers finished 7 for 11.
“Jace shot the ball well,” Battin said. “He caught the pass in rhythm and knocked them down. I thought our guys did a good job finding him and creating for him.
“That was nice, too. When we get those open shots, we’ve got to make sure and knock them down. They kept us off-balance a little bit in the second half, switching up zones and switching up man. I thought we gave it our best effort. Unfortunately, we just fell a little short.”
The Panthers got within three points on a couple occasions in the third quarter after Bowman and Gray hit back-to-back 3s.
But Dodge always had an answer. Especially in the late going.
“I thought Will Gray had a really, really solid game for Great Bend,” said Hamilton, the Dean of WAC coaches. “He had 10 points and three assists and is really athletic. He’s good.”
In the late going, after Campbell’s layup gave the Demons their seven-point lead, the Panthers never even got a shot off on their next possessions with Dakota Ellis and Greg Hildebrand committing turnovers.
Hogan then scored his late points, and then Cameron Casey knocked down a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left for the Panthers’ only points in the final three minutes to make it 51-43.
Dodge finished 21 for 41 from the field (51.2 percent), and sank 5 of 12 3s. Great Bend shot 38.5 percent from the floor (15 for 39) and drained 6 of 14 from downtown.
Hamilton said he noticed that the Panthers have been making some positive strides.
“I think they’re a much-improved team. I knew that coming in. (Battin has) mixed up the lineup since the last time we played (a 68-41 DCHS win on Jan. 13 in Dodge). I like what Bowman and (Matt) Marshall bring (to the GBHS backcourt).
“They have a nice team. They’re going to have a shot there (in the postseason) to make some noise. I know they’re going to be in an extremely tough sub-state, but I like what Coach Battin does with his team.”
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Western Athletic Conference
At Panther Fieldhouse
Dodge City 55, Great Bend 43
DODGE CITY (15-2, 5-0)
Rico Hogan 8 2-3 21, Trey Hallman 4 3-3 13, Benito Sotelo 0 0-0 0, Matt Esquibel 0 0-0 0, Alec Schmitt 1 0-0 2, Brandon Howarth 3 0-0 6, Jordan Doan 0 0-0 0, Terell Brown 0 0-0 0, Bruce Campbell 5 3-6 13. Totals 21-41 8-12 55.
GREAT BEND (9-8, 3-3)
Matt Marshall 0 0-0 0, Jace Bowman 6 0-0 16, Sam Hafner 0 0-0 0, Greg Hildebrand 1 0-0 2, Cameron Casey 1 0-0 3, Jeff Pike 0 2-2 2, Will Gray 3 3-6 10, Dakota Ellis 3 0-1 6, Roderick Frise 1 0-0 2, Wyatt Bayless 0 2-2 2. Totals 15-39 7-11 43.
Dodge City 20 7 13 15 — 55
Great Bend 11 12 12 8 — 43
Three-point goals — Great Bend 6-14 (Bowman 4-8, Gray 1-1, Casey 1-3, Hildebrand 0-1, Marshall 0-1); Dodge City 5-12 (Hogan 3-8, Hallman 2-2, Sotelo 0-1, Brown 0-1).