Quite simply, the records just don't add up. Going into Saturday night's Jayhawk West tilt with Hutchinson, Seward County Head Coach Bryan Zollinger was 0-6 in the Hutchinson Sports Arena when talking on the homestanding Dragons in regular season play. However, the 7th year Head Coach is 6-2 in games at the NJCAA National Tournament in the same building. Saturday, Zollinger left the monkey at the door, getting a conference high 28 points from freshman Niem Stevenson to lead a second half comeback against Hutchinson to win 84-82 to sweep the season series for the first time since the 2004-2005 season.
Early on it was a two man show. For the Saints it was Niem Stevenson putting on the display and for Hutchinson it was Cincinnati signee Coreonte DeBerry that was doing the work. Both players put the ball in the basket on their teams first two possessions and after 1:30 of play it was 4-4. After 2:30 of play it was Stevenson 6 and DeBerry 5 before the other eight players on the court got into the action.
Following a Secean Johnson drive and score with 15:11 left in the first half to tie the score at 8, the Dragons went on a 16-5 run against the Saints in which Seward managed just two field goals to allow Hutchinson to take control, up 24-13 with 8:29 remaining in the half. The Saints righted the ship on the offensive end, but couldn't stop the Dragons on the other end as they traded baskets until Hutch had a 30-17 lead with 6:06 to go in the half. With the crowd getting louder and the Dragons gaining the momentum, the Saints kept on fighting. Seward held Hutch without a single point over the next 2:44 as they went on a 15-0 run led by six points a piece from Brian Bridgeforth and Niem Stevenson as well as three from Evan Allen to cap the run to put the Saints up 33-32. Hutchinson answered and went on a 5-1 run of their own into the halftime break to take a 38-34 lead at the half.
The half featured eight lead changes and four ties with the Saints shooting 59% from the field and Hutchinson cashing in at the free throw line on 15 of 17 chances to hold the four point lead at the break. Hutch used 15 offensive rebounds to turn into 15 second chance points while Seward had just 2 offensive boards and scored 3 points off of them.
Stevenson led Seward with 14 first half points while the Saints found themselves down just four despite watching sophomores Quentin Purtue and Malcolm Hill-Bey both go scoreless into the half after picking up two early fouls a piece to put them on the bench.
A Hill-Bey basket early in the second half had the Hutch lead down to one and Stevenson picked up an offensive rebound on the Saints next possession and scored to give Seward the lead back 43-42 with 17:56 to go in the game. That's when things really started to get good. The two teams traded the lead back and forth five times in the next five minutes until eventually they found themselves deadlocked at 58 with 11:25 to go. Tit for tat they went and remained tied at 62 at the second half media timeout. Hutch grabbed a three point lead out of the break and the Dragons used the momentum to stretch their lead to seven at 71-64 with 7:30 left as it looked like Hutchinson might just take control of the game. The Saints had other ideas. Seward quickly went on a 9-0 run, led by a three from Hill-Bey and another acrobatic Stevenson display for a bucket to make it 73-71 Seward with 6:05 remaining. Hutch tied it back up and took the lead before a tip in by Johnson tied the game for the 11th time at 75 with just under 5:00 to go. It was still tied 2:35 later, this time at 80 when a free throw from Hill-Bey broke the deadlock and gave the Saints an 81-80 lead with 2:09 left. The Saints turned their intensity up on the defensive end and got a pair of stops before two Purtue free throws stretched their lead to 83-80 with 47 seconds left. All-American Kadeem Allen picked up two free throws of his own for Hutch with 37 seconds remaining to make it a one point game and the Saints coughed the ball up on their ensuing trip down the court. On the fast break, the Dragons DeBerry came racing up the court and bowled over Johnson who had gotten position in the lane and an offensive foul was called sending the ball back to Seward County. Hill-Bey was fouled and made one of two from the line with 24 seconds left to put the Saints up by two with the ball in the Dragons hands with a chance for the final shot. They wanted the final shot of the game and they got it into the right man's hands in Allen, but rather than a drive, Allen went for the win, pulling up from the top of the key for a three that rimed around and out with the Saints grabbing the rebound and holding on for the 84-82 win to send the natives home unhappy and the guys in green home victorious.
The game between the two heavyweights couldn't have been much better. The game was tied 17 times on the night and there were 14 lead changes. The Saints shot 48% from the field while Hutch shot 42% and struggled to just 2 of 12 beyond the arc, good for 17%. The Saints were good at the free throw line, an area of struggles at times this season. Seward went 20 for 26 to make 77% of their chances at the line while Hutch was good as well, making a living at the stripe and hitting 26 of 31 for 84%.
Stevenson led all scorers in the game with 28 points and also tied for the team lead with 8 rebounds. Johnson scored 14 points on 5 of 10 shooting and Bridgeforth finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds before fouling out for Seward.
For Hutch, Allen was held to his fourth lowest scoring output of the season at 22 points, going just 5 for 17 from the field and turning the ball over 8 times. DeBerry finished a big night with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots.
The win snaps a seven game regular season losing streak for Seward in the Sports Arena. The Saints improve to just 5-41 all time against the Blue Dragons in Hutchinson.
Seward is now 17-8 overall and improves to 7-2 in Jayhawk West play where they re-take the lead in the conference race after Dodge City upset Pratt in the Beaverdome Saturday night. Hutch drops just their fourth game on the year and only their second in the Sports Arena as they fall to 20-4 and 6-2 in Jayhawk West play.
Next up for the Saints is a home date with rival Garden City on Wednesday in the Greenhouse. Free tickets are available courtesy of our buyout sponsor Billy's at their Liberal location or at Community Bank, KSCB, or North Hutch's.
SEWARD COUNTY/#12 HUTCHINSON BOX SCORE<http://www.sewardsaints.com/sports/mbkb/2013-14/boxscores/20140208_ydq7.xml>