Two teams playing very different non-conference schedules and heading in different directions locked up in the Greenhouse Wednesday night as the 8th ranked and undefeated Hutchinson Blue Dragons came to town to take on the Seward County Saints who were coming off back to back losses in their Thanksgiving Classic in Snyder, Texas. Hutchinson had played what many would call a softer non-conference schedule but had taken care of business with what was in front of them while Seward County played a much tougher schedule with games at CSI, Odessa, and Western Texas recording a 6-3 record thus far. After one game at least, the Saints strategy seemed to have paid off as they came away with a 73-52 win in front of a thrilled Greenhouse crowed in their conference opener Wednesday night.
The two teams looked to have early game jitters as neither was able to score on their first two possessions but Hutch’s leading scorer Joe Mitchell feathered in a three pointer on their third trip to break the scoreless tie and give the Dragons an early 3-0 lead. The two teams traded stops back and forth much of the first portion of the first half as the score was tied at just 6 seven minutes into the game. Garrius Holloman would score 5 straight points minutes later and give Hutch their largest lead of the game at 15-10 with 10:25 left on the clock. The margin was the same with the score 19-14 in favor of Hutch when Tony Smith dialed up a long distance shot and connected to cut the lead to 2 followed by strong finishes inside from Donte McCarter and Marky Nolen to put the guys in green up two as Dragon coach Steve Eck called a timeout with 4:40 remaining. Two more Joe Mitchell 3’s would push the Dragons to a 27-26 halftime lead as the teams headed to the locker room. The Saints were outshot 35-46% in the first half, had just one three-pointer made to Hutch’s four, and were getting outrebounded 21-15 but thanks to their tenacious defense, forced 16 Dragon turnovers to stay in the game.
Hutchinson held a lead through the first 4 minutes of the second half but Seward County seemed to have found a switch and turned it on after that as they scored 6 points in the next minute of the game to take their largest lead of the game at that point at five, 38-33. The Saints lead waved from 4 to 6 in the time winding down to 9 minutes left as Tony Smith began to work his magic with good finishes and highlight reel dishes. Greenville, North Carolina natives Smith and McCarter scored 14 of Seward’s next 16 points to extend the lead to 14 at 59-45 and took the breath out of the Hutchinson faithful that made their way to Liberal for the game. The Blue Dragons would get as close as 11 but the final 4 minutes of the game belonged to the Saints. Seward scored the last 10 points of the game stretching their lead from 11 to 21 highlighted by a monster throw down on a behind the back pass from Smith to Jon Tassin. In fact the Saints scored on their final six possessions of the game after scoring on just one of their first six possessions of the game giving new meaning to the phrase, ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’. Seward shot 51% against the conference’s top defensive team coming into the game while holding the Dragons to just 32% shooting in the final 20 minutes.
Leading the offense for Seward was Tony Smith and Donte McCarter who each threw in 17 points and combined for 9 assists and 8 steals in the game. Marky Nolen recorded yet another double-double as the freshman was 7 for 11 shooting, good for 14 points while also leading the team in rebounding with 11 on the night. Latiq Agard scored 13 points with his 7 rebounds and Jon Tassin connected on a few big shots in the game and finished with 8 points and four rebounds.
The Saints win over the country’s 8th ranked team moves them to 7-3 on the season and start 1-0 in Jayhawk West play. Although they celebrated with the rocking Greenhouse crowd after the win, they don’t have too much time to stay in the spotlight as Head Coach Bryan Zollinger’s Saints head to Great Bend Saturday night to take on defending Jayhawk West Champion Barton County at 8:00. Seward will return home on Friday, December 11th where they will take on Central Christian University JV in the Greenhouse at 8:00 in the Pizza Hut Classic.