The Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team won their seventh-straight game on Saturday night at the Sports Arena, defeating the 19th-ranked Barton Cougars 70-61 and propelling itself into second place in the Jayhawk West, just one game off the lead.
In front of the largest crowd of the year, estimated at 3,200, the Blue Dragons broke open a tied game at half with a 23-4 run to lead 52-33 with 11:52 to go in the game. The Cougars, who buried HCC by 22 points in the first meeting in Great Bend, got as close as seven in the final minute of the game.
“A really good crowd tonight,” HCC head coach Steve Eck said. “This time, we gave them something to cheer about.”
“I remember at the beginning of that losing streak, we still had a big crowd,” said sophomore forward Anthony Thomas, referring to HCC’s 1-4 start to league play. “We didn’t want to disappoint any one. We want to keep winning.”
Thomas and freshman Alex Davis led four Blue Dragons in double figures with 14 points each. Thomas was 6 of 9 shooting and had six rebounds. Davis was one rebound shy of a third-straight double-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.
Freshman Rozell Nunn turned in another solid performance hitting all five of his shot attempts to finish with 12 points. Sophomore Michael Spease had 11 points and four assists. Sophomore Mark Braden had nine points. Sophomore Ryan Schultz had eight points and eight rebounds.
“It was tough, starting like that,” Braden said referring to HCC’s start to the league season. “But we came out and worked hard every day. Now, it’s paying off.”
The Blue Dragons shot 50 percent or better for the sixth time in Jayhawk West play and 12th time this season, hitting 24 of 48 shots (50.0 percent), going 4 of 14 from 3-point range and 19 of 29 from the free-throw line. HCC committed 13 turnovers, cutting that mark down from the first Barton game by eight. The Dragons were soundly out-rebounded 50-35 and allowed a season-worst 28 offensive rebounds.
Dwayne Brunson had a huge game for the Cougars (22-5, 8-5) with a double-double totaling 23 points and 16 rebounds. Algie Key had 13 points.
Barton, one of the top offensive teams in the NJCAA, was held 28 points under its season scoring average and to a season-low output of 60 points. The Cougars shot 32.9 percent from the field (24 of 73) and were shut out from 3-point range, missing all seven long-range attempts. Barton hit 12 of 20 free throws and committed 13 turnovers. The Cougars did score 20 points of those 28 offensive rebounds.
It was that offensive rebounding that helped Barton build a 23-18 first-half lead after back-to-back buckets by Key, the second a dunk off a steal.
HCC, which shot 52.9 percent (10 of 19) in the first half rode that wave of Barton momentum. Nunn stopped the Barton run on the next possession and then Davis sank his first 3-pointer of the year to pull HCC within 27-25 with 3:39 to go. Brunson scored again to give Barton a four-point margin.
A Braden bucket and Schultz 3-pointer was part of a 6-0 HCC run to give the Dragons a 29-27 lead with 2:50 to play. Brunson scored again to tie the game at 29-all with 2:11 to go. Neither team scored for the remainder of the first half.
An extended halftime to celebrate the induction of Blue Dragon basketball and track and field great Steve Fritz into the HCC Quarterback Club Hall of Fame turned into a huge delay as one of the shot clocks above one of the baskets malfunctioned. Swapping out the clock turned halftime into about a 40 minute delay.
“Not really,” Eck said when asked if the delay concerned him. “I said what I wanted to say at halftime. The guys in the locker room had a look like they were ready to go, and that’s the first time I’ve seen that. Sometimes, I don’t know, but they looked ready.”
The Blue Dragons were ready as Thomas scored on HCC’s first possession of the second half. HCC scored the first nine points of the opening half and led 38-29 after a Spease basket with 17:15 to play. Eight of HCC’s first 11 points in the second half came from the foul line, but an inside bucket by Nunn pushed the Dragon lead to double figures for the first time at 42-31 with 15:36 remaining.
After the initial 9-0 run, the Dragons scored eight unanswered to lead 47-31 with 13:33 to play and then scored five-straight to lead 52-33 after a Davis three-point play with 11:52 remaining. That play capped a 23-4 Blue Dragon run.
The Cougars answered with a 6-0 run to pull within 52-39 with 11:07 to go. HCC answered that with a 6-0 run, the final three on a Schultz three-point play, for a 58-39 lead with 9:14 remaining.
Barton then made a major push to get back into the game, going on a 13-2 run over the next 5 minutes, 16 seconds to pull within 60-52 with 3:58 to go. The only points of that stretch with a drive and dunk by Thomas with 5:25 to play.
Nunn’s bucket stopped the Barton run with 3:23 to play, but Barton had one run left. Turon Parker hit 1 of 2 technical free throws with 52 seconds remaining to pull within 67-60, but Spease sank a pair of free throws with 51 seconds left to go back up by nine. Barton chose not to foul in the final seconds and Davis scored with 7 seconds to go to close out the game.
HCC travels to Colby in another pivotal Jayhawk West contest. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. at the Colby Community Building.
GAME NOTES – The Blue Dragons are 74-22 all time vs. Barton … HCC is 3-1 vs. ranked teams this season and is now 6-4 vs. ranked teams under Steve Eck. … Eck won his 396th game as a junior college head coach. … HCC netted all-time victory No. 1,593. … The Blue Dragons are 15-4 at home this season. … This was the 12th time in 2011-12 HCC has shot 50 percent or better. .. .The Blue Dragons are 8-2 when out-rebounded. … This was the first time this season that HCC has shut a team out from 3-point range.
(HCC Sports Information)