In a much anticipated matchup between the two best teams in the Jayhawk West Conference and two of the better teams in all of the NJCAA, the #16 Seward County Saints and the #8 Hutchinson Blue Dragons squared off Wednesday night in the Greenhouse. Hutch jumped out to a one point halftime lead but it was Seward that would take control in the final 20 minutes of the contest, using a 9-1 run in the middle of a 51 point half to come out with a huge 86-76 win in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
With first place in the conference on the line the Saints and Blue Dragons squared off in an intense battle from the start. Each team would pound the ball inside for a pair of baskets early and four minutes into things the teams were tied at 4 apiece. Phil Hawkins would slash to the lane later on and find the hands of Irvin Hollinger with a pass which would result in a three point play to put the Saints up 7-4 but Hutch would storm back, scoring the next 13 points in a four minute stretch to put themselves up 17-7 with 12 minutes to go in the half. The Saints would finally break the scoring drought with a power layup from Daveon Boardingham and then a patented long jumper from Jeremy Jones to cut the Dragon lead to 6. The two offenses would pick it up out of the media timeout as Hutch’s Stuart Sullivan hit a trio of three-pointers sandwiched around Seward buckets from Nolen and Markee Mazyck to make it a 26-15 Hutchinson lead with eight minutes left in the half. Then it was time for the Saints to make their first half run as Nolen hit a three pointer to get things going and Seward would hit 5 free throws and get a finish inside from Boardingham to make it a 26-25 game in favor of the Dragons with 4:19 remaining in the first half. The teams would grind it out for the final four minutes of the period as they went back and forth before the horn sounded with the same one point spread as Hutch went to the locker rooms up 36-35.
As the second half got underway the Saints would quickly take control as Boardingham hit a pair of free throws to give them a one point lead and then Marquez Patterson got a steal and a score to give them a three point advantage. Hutch would go on a quick 6-0 burst to swing the three point lead to their side but Patterson would bang home a deep three to again tie the game up, this time at 44 with 16:14 to go in the game. Seward would outscore Hutch 8-3 in the next two minutes and would hold their largest lead of the game at 52-47 with 14 minutes remaining. Hutchinson seemed to feel the pressure of being down and being on the road as their offense struggled to get anything going as the half reached its midway point and that pressure turned to panic after Boardingham hammered home a dunk over Dylan Frantz and was fouled where he completed the three point play to put the home team up 64-55 with under 9 minutes to go. Hutch would go without a field goal for nearly three minutes as Seward built their lead up to 12 at the 7:26 mark and the Saints would cruise from there. The Blue Dragons would never get closer than 7 as an aggressive Seward offense continued to drive into the lane and get to the free throw line where they would finish the night with an 80% success rate. With the game all but over, the Saints started to have some fun as Rafriel Guthrie would get a steal and throw a half court alley-oop to Jones who skied above the rim before grabbing the ball and throwing it through to put an exclamation point on the win. Seward would go on to take the game 86-76 thanks in large part to a second half that saw them shoot 63% and put up 51 points.
Five Saints would reach double figures in the win as Jones and Guthrie would lead the way with 16 points apiece. Jones would add 7 assists for Seward and Guthrie would also grab 7 rebounds in the win. Boardingham continued to show why he is a frontrunner for 6th man of the year as he scored 14 points and had 7 rebounds off of the Saints bench and Patterson would finish with 11 points, 4 assists, and 3 big steals in the game. While battling foul trouble all night, Nolen was still able to do something for the 6th straight game that some players are happy to do a couple of times a year, notch a double-double. The sophomore forward racked up 12 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action to do so and remain the conference’s leading rebounder this season. On the night the Saints would outrebound the much bigger Hutchinson squad 40-38 and would force 21 Blue Dragon turnovers.
The win gives Seward number 20 on the season as they improve their overall record to 20-3 in the 2010-2011 campaign. Not only did the win give the Saints sweet revenge on the only team that had beaten them since November but it pushed their conference mark to 8-1 and gives them a full 2 game lead on second place Hutchinson in the conference standings. The Saints will now hit the road for a tough three game road stretch starting Saturday night in Great Bend where they will face a Barton Cougars team that is 11-3 at home this season.