As 20th birthdays go, Hutchinson Community College sophomore Ryan Schultz’s was pretty memorable as his big night helped pace the Blue Dragons to their ninth-consecutive Jayhawk West victory on Saturday night over the Pratt Beavers.
Schultz had 18 points and eight rebounds to lead the Blue Dragons to an 86-70 victory over Beavers in a Jayhawk west battle at the Sports Arena. Second-place Hutchinson (23-5) kept pace in the Jayhawk West title race and continues to trail front-running Seward County by one game with two games to play.
Schultz knocked down 6 of 8 shots, hitting a career-high three 3-point goals in leading Hutchinson to its fourth-straight shooting game of 50 percent or better.
“Sometimes, I don’t get a lot of opportunities (to shoot from outside) because I play inside, which is OK,” Schultz said. “Coach has been encouraging me to take that shot, and it was one of those nights it felt good coming out of my hand. My teammates did a good job finding me.”
“The thing is, he’s been off,” HCC head coach Steve Eck said about Schultz’s perimeter shooting. “I’ve been waiting for him to make those shots. He’s worked really hard at his game.”
After a very tight first 15 minutes, the Blue Dragons built a 33-23 halftime lead shooting just 39.3 percent from the field. That changed around in the second half HCC hit 17 of 25 shots in the second half (68 percent) in building a 20-point lead at 77-57.
For the game, HCC hit the 50-percent shooting mark for the eighth time in conference play, shooting 52.8 percent from the field (28 of 53). The Dragons were 3 of 11 from 3-point range and 27 of 37 from the free-throw line. HCC out-rebounded Pratt 43-34 and committed 15 turnovers. HCC also had 16 assists, the second-most in conference play.
Four Blue Dragons scored in double figures in the game. Sophomore Mark Braden hit 5 of 9 shots to tally 15 points to go with five rebounds and three assists. Sophomore Anthony Thomas and freshman Alex Davis had 10 points each. Freshmen A.J. Spencer and Rozell Nunn chipped in nine points each and Jack Pyle added eight points.
Aaron Abrams had 20 points to lead four Pratt players in double figures. Trae Beck hit 4 of 12 3-point goals and finished with 16 points. Bryton Hobbs had 15 points and six assists. Chad Coachman finished with 12 points.
The Beavers (12-16, 3-11) shot 35.2 percent (25 of 71), going 6 of 25 from 3-point range and 14 of 18 from the foul line. Pratt turned the ball over only eight times.
Neither team had more than a two-possession lead over the first 15 minutes of the game. The Dragons led 8-2 early, but the Beavers quickly tied the game at 8-all and 10-all. Back-to-back baskets by Pyle and Thomas put Hutch up 14-10 and the Dragons never gave up the lead again.
An Abram dunk with 6:32 to go pulled Pratt within 23-19, but HCC scored seven unanswered points and outscored the Beavers 10-4 over the remainder of the opening half to lead 33-23 at halftime.
Hutchinson’s lead in the second half dipped into single figures only one. That was at 42-33 with 16:08 to play after Beck hit a 3-pointer.The Dragons responded with a 7-2 run and built the lead back up to 49-34 after a Schultz 3-pointer with 13:50 remaining in the game.
“My mom put some pressure on me at breakfast,” said Schultz, about playing on his birthday. “I just wanted to play hard and get a win.”
The Beavers hit four second-half 3-pointers to keep the Blue Dragons’ attention in the second half. The Dragons used back-to-back dunks by Thomas and Davis – his was a three-point play – to build the lead to 20 points for the first time at 77-57 with 3:06 remaining.
“I wasn’t pleased with the last three minutes,” Eck said. “We turned it over too much the last three minutes, and it kind of spoiled the game for us, but Pratt's been playing well. You have to credit them too, and they're tough to guard.”
The Blue Dragons play their final regular-season road game on Wednesday night at Cloud County.
GAME NOTES – This was HCC’s first nine-game conference winning streak since 2010. … HCC head coach Steve Eck won his 398th game as a junior college coach. … The Blue Dragons are now 131-23 all time vs. Pratt, the most victories against a single opponent. … This was HCC’s sixth-straight victory over Pratt. … HCC earned all-time victory 1,595. … The Dragons are 16-4 at the Sports Arena this season. … This was the 15th time in 2011-12 that HCC has shot 50 percent or better. … Rozell Nunn’s first shot of the game was a miss and ended his streak of consecutive made shots at 16. Nunn finished 3 of 6 shooting for nine points.
(HCC Sports Information)