It was one of those cliché ‘must win games’ Wednesday night in the Greenhouse as Seward County took on defending conference champion Barton County and the Saints did just enough to come out on top as they withstood a late three point barrage from the Cougars to pick up their 18th win of the season 89-82.
The two teams were desperate for wins as Seward came in losers of 3 of their last 4 and Barton 5 of their last 6. The Saints looked to remain in the picture for a conference title while Barton would be happy just to have a shot at a home playoff game in March. Both teams came out hungry and executed on the offensive end early as the score was tied at 7 three minutes in. Seward would take the first decisive lead of the game when they followed that with an 8-0 run capped by a drive and dish by Tony Smith who found Donte McCarter for the finish to put the Saints up 15-7 with 15:22 to go in the first half. The Saints would take their largest lead of the half at 13 with 7:16 to go as a picture perfect high-low dish from Marky Nolen to Marcus James connected and finished with a James throw down to get the home crowd fired up. A late bucket from Ronald Baker would cut the Seward lead by a pair but the Saints would still go into the locker room up 10 points 42-32 as they looked to get back on track against the Cougars.
After a slow shooting start for the Cougars, they opened the second half on fire as they quickly erased the big Seward County lead coming out on a 10-2 run and then taking a lead of their own with 15:28 to go as they connected on their 5th three pointer of the half in less than 5 minutes of play. A slashing Isaiah Thaw would tie the game up for Seward at 51-51, a bucket that would spark a 10-2 run for the Saints, thanks in part to three straight Robert Sigala assists to put the home team up 61-53 with under 12 minutes to go. The pesky Cougars just wouldn’t go away unfortunately for Seward and they showed they could make a run of their own, going on a 9-0 jot to take a one point lead and force yet another Seward County timeout. Tony Smith found Sigala open up top and the sophomore buried a three on the Saints first possession out of the timeout to re-give them the lead but it wouldn’t last long as Barton’s leading scorer Karon Burton would hit a fade away jumper moments later to knot the score back up at 70 apiece. After trading baskets and seeing their 6th tie of the game, Seward had seen enough as Smith and Jon Tassin connected on three’s as part of a 10-0 Seward run to put them up 82-72 and finally out of arms reach from Craig Fletchall’s Cougars. The game would get to as close as 5 in the last minute but the Saints free throw shooting outlasted the Barton rally as the guys in green were able to leave the gym with a good feeling for the first time in their last three tries, coming out on top 89-82.
The Seward County offense, ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, followed up their worst offensive performance of the year with an 89 point showing thanks in part to 16 or more points from four of their five starters. Tony Smith led the way with one of his better games in the last month scoring 20 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists without a turnover, all team highs. Marcus James played strong inside, throwing down a couple of dunks and getting fouled on a few others which would have made Barton defenders poster material as he scored 19 on the night. Jon Tassin had his best shooting night of his career connecting on 4 of 5 long range shots en route to scoring 17 points and Latiq Agard continued to be a model for consistency scoring 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor. Despite being bruised and battered inside in a pair of road games this weekend, Marky Nolen came off the Seward bench in Wednesday’s win to score 8 points, grab 8 rebounds, dish out 5 assists, and pick up a team high 4 steals in a stat sheet filler for him.
The win was the Saints 18th of the year as they move to 18-6 and 7-3 in conference on the campaign. They will now host a struggling Colby squad Saturday night before Pratt comes to down Wednesday . Saturday night’s buyout sponsor is McDonald’s with free tickets available at both Liberal locations. Saturday night will be Tony Smith poster night so make sure to pick up your free poster of the Saints star guard at any of the entrances and have him sign them for you outside the concession stand at halftime of the women’s game.