LIBERAL – The Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team rallied from nine points down at halftime as freshman James Conley scored his only points of the game with 2.6 seconds remaining to lift the No. 11 Blue Dragons to an 87-85 victory over Seward County on Wednesday at the Greenhouse.
The Blue Dragons completed their sixth rally for a victory this season from at least a nine-point deficit. Now winners of eight consecutive games, Hutchinson improves to 24-3 overall and 13-3 in the Jayhawk Conference. The Blue Dragons remain tied with Neosho County atop the Jayhawk Conference standings.
The somewhat improbable victory was a milestone for Blue Dragon head coach Steve Eck, who moved past Hall of Fame coach Gene Keady for third place on the Blue Dragon all-time coaching wins list with 188 wins. Eck’s record at HCC is now 188-42. Gary Bargen is No. 2 on the Blue Dragon coaching list with 199 wins.
Hutchinson trailed 44-35 at halftime after the Saints scored the final six points of the half in the final 33 seconds of the period. Turnovers haunted HCC as the Saints turned 11 Dragon turnovers in the first half into 18 points. But the Blue Dragons once again showed their resiliency and outscored the Saints 22-13 over the first 6 minutes, 36 seconds of the second half to tie the game at 57 on a Samajae Haynes-Jones 3-pointer.
The comeback became more improbable when HCC had to do it without the services of leading scorer Bashir Ahmed, Keanu Pinder and Jawan Emery – and their combined 52 points and 22 rebounds – for the final 2:50 of the game after all three fouled out of the game.
Tied at 85, the Blue Dragons got a critical defensive stop and freshman Shakur Juiston pushed the ball up the floor and found Conley, who hit a short baseline jumper with 2.6 seconds left in the game. The Saints never got a final shot off as Juiston intercepted a pass on the final play.
Hutchinson was led by Ahmed, who posted his ninth double-double of the season with 32 points and 10 rebounds. Ahmed broke 30 points for the fourth time this season and sixth time in his career. He jumped past Corey Floyd (1988-90) and Joe Mitchell (2009-11) into eighth place on the Blue Dragon career scoring list with 1,151 points. Ahmed had five 3-point goals for the third time this season.
Haynes-Jones scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. Haynes-Jones added a season-high eight rebounds and season-high-tying five assists. Pinder was HCC’s third double-figure scorer with 12 points and nine rebounds. Emery, Akbar Hoffman and Juiston had eight points each.
Hutchinson hit 26 of 71 overall shots (42.6 percent), hitting 7 of 21 from 3-point range and 28 of 36 from the free-throw line. The Dragons outscored Seward County 48-35, but turned the ball over 22 times.
Niem Stevenson was again unstoppable with 35 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Saints. Stevenson has scored 72 points in two games against the Blue Dragons this season. Delano Jones had 14 points and Charles Beauregard added 13 for Seward County.
The Saints shot 28 of 66 overall (42.4 percent) with 9 of 25 from 3-point range and 20 of 30 from the foul line.
Trailing 16-12, an Ahmed 3-pointer and Juiston inside hoop gave the Dragons a17-16 lead with 11:47 to play in the opening half. Stevenson immediately dropped a 3-pointer on the Saints’ next possession. Then back-to-back layups capped a 14-7 Saints run to lead 30-23 with 7:18 remaining in the first half.
The Saints pushed their margin to nine points at 36-27 after another Stevenson trey. Trailing 38-31, Pinder hit two free throws and then added a layup with 1:28 to go to cut the Seward lead to 38-35. Buckets by Jones and James Byrd and two free throws with 1.3 seconds left after a Blue Dragon foul by Mitchell Packard gave Seward County a 44-35 halftime lead.
HCC opened the second half with a quick 7-2 run to pull within 46-42 after a Hoffman basket with 17:34 remaining. HCC still trailed 63-58 with 11:59 to play when it exploded for a quick 10-0 run over the next 2 minutes, 48 seconds to lead 68-63 after an Haynes-Jones 3-pointer with 9:11 remaining.
Neither team led by more than four points after that. The Saints led 80-76 with 3:26 to go. Haynes-Jones hit two free throws with 2:15 to go to knot the game at 83. After a Dragon defensive stop, Haynes-Jones scored with 1:47 to go for a two-point HCC lead, but Stevenson scored with 1:37 left to tie the game at 85.
Each team missed chances to take the lead, which set up HCC’s final possession and Conley’s game winner.
Hutchinson plays host to Cloud County at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
GAME NOTES – This was HCC’s 100th meeting with Seward County. The Dragons have a 72-28 all-time series lead with their fourth-straight win over Seward County. … This was all-time win No. 1,708. … The 2015-16 Blue Dragons tie the 2013-14 team for third on the team blocked shots list with 185. … HCC is now 9-1 on the road and 7-1 when trailing at halftime. … This was Bashir Ahmed’s 17th career double-double. … James Conley tied a season high with three assists. … Akbar Hoffman tied a career high with five steals.
(HCC Sports Information)