The Seward County Saints were hoping that history would repeat itself Wednesday night in the Sports Arena in Hutchinson as they faced the NJCAA’s #1 ranked team in the Blue Dragons who were hoping to break a trend of losing to the Saints like they had the past two times they were ranked on top of the polls. The only other two times the Blue Dragons were ranked #1 in the country (1992 & 1975), they were beaten by the guys in green the following week and were dropped in the rankings. After trailing by 10 points at halftime, the Saints turned things around quickly in the second half and led most of the way during the final period but were unable to finish as the Dragons closed on a 6-0 run to come away with an 80-75 win to remain undefeated on the season.
Both teams came out ready to play in this highly anticipated matchup between two top 25 teams. Hutch would get the crowd fired up with three early dunks while the Saints went at their scoring in a little different way as Marky Nolen and Jeremy Jones connected from deep and with matching free throws the teams were tied at 7 three minutes into things. The Dragons would control things for the next five minutes as their pressuring defense would push the Saints streak without a field goal to almost seven minutes. During the span, Hutch had no trouble scoring and promptly went on an 11-2 run during that time to take an 18-9 lead into the 11 minute mark of the half. Seward would fight back as Markee Mazyck scored six straight for the Saints and after a finish inside by Irvin Hollinger the Saints were back to within one at 23-22. The lead wouldn’t remain that small for long though as good ball movement for Hutch and an arsenal of weapons for the Dragons proved hard to guard for the Saints as Hutchinson would score the games next 10 points to take their largest lead of the night 33-22. The teams would play nearly even for the final two minutes of the half and going to the break the Dragons had to feel good as they led their rivals from Seward County 38-28.
Any momentum that the Dragons thought they might have had going into the locker rooms at half was quickly turned on them as a stern halftime speech from Seward coach Bryan Zollinger caught his teams attention as they stormed out of the break on a 14-2 burst led by 7 points and 3 assists from Jones in just four minutes to flip the script on the Dragons and give the Saints their first lead since the opening minutes of the game at 42-40. Hutch would knot things back up on their next possession but Jones refused to let them get out in front as he poured in 7 more points to keep the game tied at 51-51. Down one after a layup inside by Oklahoma signee Robert Goff moments later, Rafriel Guthrie would knock down a three pointer from the wing and was fouled where he completed the unusual four point play to give Seward their largest lead of the night as they led 56-53. Hutchinson’s William Nelson would can a three ball on the Dragons next possession to tie things back up at 56 and the two teams would go back and forth to the five minute mark still tied up, this time at 68. After empty possessions for both sides, Guthrie would connect with Nolen underneath for two to give Seward the lead back 70-68 with 4:17 to go. On the next trip down the court for the Dragons, Joe Mitchell would get the whistle on a controversial continuation three-point play to give Hutch a one point lead. The Saints would turn the ball over the next time they touched it and a Seward foul and a Hutch free throw would put them up two. Daveon Boardingham would get fouled on the Saints next trip but the big man would hit just one of two free throw attempts as Hutch remained ahead by one 72-71. After another bucket by Mitchell to put Hutch up three again, Jones would draw a foul and hit both free throws to make it 74-73 in favor of the Dragons. After a defensive stop, the Saints took the lead after Guthrie hit a runner from 10 feet out to put them up 75-74 with 2:24 to go. Just when it looked like the Saints might knock off the Dragons from their #1 spot for the third time, Hutch turned up the dial a notch and Seward simply couldn’t answer. Mitchell would knock down a three pointer to put Hutch up 77-75 with 1:47 left and Seward would never score again as a lack of execution late caught up to them as they fell by the final score of 80-75 after a trio of clutch free throws from the guys from the Salt City.
The Saints allowed the Dragons to shoot 57% as a team in the game while they shot just 42% themselves. Hutchinson outrebounded Seward 40-28 and turned 11 offensive rebounds into 11 second chance points in the win. Jones had his third straight big game for the Saints, nearly single handedly keeping them in the game early in the second half as he finished with 26 points and 6 assists while Guthrie who was originally ruled out of the game with an injury earlier in the week battled through the pain to score 12 points for Seward. Nolen finished with 9 points and 8 rebounds while Boardingham had a matching 7 points and 7 rebounds in the defeat.
The loss snaps a seven game winning streak for the Saints and drops them to 12-3 overall and 0-1 in conference play on the year. They will look to bounce back Saturday when they open their conference slate at home against Barton at 8:00 in the Greenhouse. Free tickets will be available throughout the week courtesy of our buyout sponsor The Bank of Beaver City.

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Carpenter