On a weekend that contained two games with polar opposite storylines, the Seward County Saints picked up a pair of wins in the Pizza Hut Classic to move to 10-2 overall on the season as they ready themselves for the Christmas break and then the Jayhawk West Conference season after the New Year. Friday night the Saints were shocked to find themselves in a dogfight with TAAG Prep Academy late in the game and then in dire straits when the Ambassadors hit a shot with just over 6 seconds to go to give them the lead. Seward’s Marky Nolen would take the ball on the inbounds the length of the court, launching and missing a shot with 2 seconds to go before getting his own rebound and ‘tipping’ it in from nearly the free throw line as time expired to give the Saints a one point, 84-83 win. Saturday Seward would control the game throughout against the Colorado Kings and would come out on top of an 84-76 decision at the end of the night.
With a prep school in for their Friday night matchup and one that had driven to Liberal from Tampa, Florida, it was expected that the Saints would have a pretty easy go of things when they hit the court against TAAG Academy in their first contest of the weekend. That assumption could not have been any more wrong as the Ambassadors came to play and the Saints found out early that they would be in for a 40 minute battle with them. Both teams would have a hard time finding the hole on offense early and were tied at just 6 nearly five minutes in. Seward’s Daveon Boardingham would knock down a free throw to give the Saints a 7-6 lead but TAAG would go on a 7-2 run in the next two minutes and would take their largest lead of the game at 13-9. Down 16-13 moments later the Saints would score the next 8 points of the game on baskets from Phil Hawkins, Jeremy Jones, and Boardingham to take a 21-16 lead of their own with 9:15 to go in the half but would not be able to shake the Ambassadors as they turned around and scored on their next three consecutive possessions to retake the lead at 23-21. Seward would finish the half strong and a three pointer by Marquez Patterson as time wound down before the break would put them up 38-34 as the teams headed to the locker rooms at half.
Seward would come out of the break ready to go on offense and quickly opened up their largest lead of the game at 12 with a connection inside from Nolen to Irvin Hollinger to make it 55-43 Saints with 14:50 to go in the half. Still up double digits 68-58 with under eight minutes to go in the game it looked as if the Saints had weathered the storm from TAAG but the Ambassadors would make another run to cut the Seward lead to two and would tie the game at 75 with a pair of free throws with just four minutes to go and the teams would start all over at square one. The teams would trade points to 79-79 before Hawkins hit one of two from the line to give the Saints the lead 80-79 with one minute to go. TAAG’s Juan Ferrales would then drive inside and score to give the Ambassadors the one point lead but Markee Mazyck would be fouled on Seward’s ensuing possession and would knock down both free throws to put the Saints up 82-81 with just 16 seconds remaining on the clock. With the game on the line, TAAG’s Tyler Gaskins found his way inside and banked a shot off the glass and in with 6 seconds left to give the Ambassadors an 83-82 lead. Instead of calling a timeout to draw up a play the Saints would rush the ball up the court with the clock ticking down and Nolen would launch up a wild shot from the wing with 2 seconds to go that would hit hard off the backboard and then the rim before shooting out to near the free throw line in the air. Just when it looked as if the major upset was going to be pulled, Nolen came out of nowhere and with one swift swing of his right arm, contacted the ball as time was expiring on the clock. In almost slow motion the ball made its way to the rim and bounced hardly off of the glass before finding its way through the middle of the hoop to give the Saints a 84-83 win in the most dramatic of fashions. An exuberant Saints team stormed the court to celebrate the miraculous shot while the TAAG squad stood in disbelief of what had just happened.
Nolen’s ‘tip’ in, for lack of a better term, finished up a very good night for him in which he recorded his 3rd double-double of the season and 8th of his Seward County career with 14 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Boardingham led the Saints offensively with a career high 17 points, the Seward freshman also pulled down 6 rebounds and had 4 blocked shots before fouling out of the game late. Jones was 7 for 10 from the field and finished with 16 points as well as a team high 7 assists while Mazyck and Hawkins both finished with 10 points apiece.
On Saturday the Saints were opposite a veteran Colorado Kings team who Dodge City had to take into overtime 24 hours prior before coming away with a victory. On this night the Saints would make things much easier on themselves as they scored on their first possession and would lead the contest throughout. Seward would open up a 16-7 lead just five minutes into the game after three pointers on back to back possessions by Hawkins and Patterson. The Kings would cut the Saints lead to four as the two teams neared the midway point of the half but an 18-6 five minute stretch for Seward would put them in the driver’s seat as they took a 40-24 lead. The Kings would finish the half by hitting a trio of late three point shots however and as the teams went to the break the Saints lead was back to single digits at 43-35.
Out of the half Hawkins would nail another three for Seward and an offensive rebound and score from Raphael Giaimo would quickly put them up 13. The Saints would continue rolling and would hold a sizeable advantage through the majority of the second 20 minutes of play. With 7:37 to go in the game it looked as if the Saints were going to be able to put it into cruise control as they took a 20 point advantage at 72-52 but the Kings weren’t ready to roll over just quite yet. Colorado would find the bucket on nine of their next ten trips down the court and would hold the Saints to just two points during the same span to close the gap from 20 down to 4 in a matter of just four minutes. So, with 3:33 left on the clock, things were interesting once again as the Kings looked for their second straight late game comeback after taking Dodge City to overtime with a last second shot one day earlier. Out of a timeout Patterson would slash to the hole and find Boardingham who finished inside to give the Saints a six point advantage and then Rafriel Guthrie ripped the cords the next two times down the court for Seward to put them up ten 80-70 with just 1:50 to go in the game. The Kings would make a pair of three pointers in the last two minutes but Nolen would get a couple baskets of his own for Seward and as the final horn sounded the Saints would go on to win by the final count of 84-76.
If you looked at the shooting numbers alone you might be surprised to see that the Saints chalked one up in the win column as they were outshot 47% to 42% from the field, 41% to 38% from the three point line and 70% to 67% from the free throw line, however Seward controlled the boards in the win, outrebounding the Kings 47 to 35 and forced 17 turnovers while committing just 11 themselves. Nolen led the Saints individually with 15 points while Guthrie and Patterson had a dozen each for Seward. Hawkins finished with 10 points and 4 assists for the Saints and Boardingham narrowly missed another double-double with 10 rebounds and 8 points on the night.
The Saints now hit the holiday break at 10-2 and will enjoy a three week break before hitting the hardwood again on New Year’s Day in Chanute against 9th ranked Missouri State West Plains in the Neosho County New Years Classic.