The Hutchinson News
By Brad Hallier
The Hutchinson Community College men couldn't come up with compliments fast enough Saturday for Northwest Kansas Tech.
The Jayhawk West runner-up Blue Dragons heard all about their Region 6 Tournament first-round opponent. They knew Northwest Kansas Tech won at Seward County, beat Colby, Brown Mackie and Dodge City, and played Barton tough in Great Bend. While the Blue Dragons had the second seed from the Jayhawk West, they knew Region 6 independent Northwest Kansas Tech, the seventh seed out of the East, wouldn't be a typical first-round pushover.
The Mavericks weren't. Hutchinson won 90-82, but the Blue Dragons couldn't help but smiling when talking about the first-year program out of Goodland.
"That's a great team, hands down," said sophomore forward Alex Davis, who had 27 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots. "They play as a team, they have a great offense and a great coach. We had our hands up, and they were still hitting some tough, tough shots."
Northwest Kansas Tech, which is the East's seven seed since there are only six Division I teams in the Jayhawk East, put on a shooting exhibition most of the game. The Mavericks (16-15) made 11 of 23 3-pointers, and at one time was 11 of 18. Many times, the Sports Arena crowd made a noise of dread when the Mavericks shot a 3-pointer, fearing each one would go in.
Gian Clavell poured in a game-high 34 points, the most any player scored against the Blue Dragons this season. He sank 12 of 21 shots, including going five of nine from 3-point range.
The Mavericks' 11 3-pointers tied the most against Hutch this season, and their 44.3 shooting percentage was among the best against Hutchinson.
"As funny as it sounds, I thought our defense was the difference, especially late," HCC coach Steve Eck said. "We had 22 points off their 16 turnovers. But offensively, they're really good. (Clavell), he's a dandy. He was good tonight. (Burgos) was in foul trouble, so I think they relied more on (Clavell). He was hot tonight."
So was Hutchinson's offense. The Blue Dragons shot 53.6 percent (37 of 69) and had 25 assists. Four players scored at least 13 points, led by Davis, who set his career high in scoring.
"We were very patient on offense," Davis said. "After our first pass, our second pass, we kept moving on offense instead of taking the first shot. We made four or five passes before we shot."
The Blue Dragons and Mavericks traded barbs all first half. Northwest Kansas Tech took its first lead with 10 minutes, four seconds left in the half after a Juan Ortiz basket, and the lead changed hands eight more times that half. Hutchinson ended the half on an 8-0 run and led 50-45 at halftime.
But the Mavericks never went away, and they took a 61-60 lead with 12:48 left after a Markees Walter basket. The Blue Dragons, however, were never rattled.
"We imposed our will on offense," Davis said. "We were up five at Seward at halftime, and we let it slip away. Coach said it was the same thing this time. We were up five and we had to impose our will."
The Blue Dragons, contrary to Northwest Kansas Tech's offense, made only one 3-pointer in four attempts. But it was a big one, as Spencer sank it with 7:49 left, breaking a 68-68 tie.
Again, the Mavericks answered as Clavell made a 3-pointer, and his free throws with 5:38 gave them a 76-75 lead.
Then sophomore point guard D'Von Campbell took over. Campbell, who had 13 points and five assists, made two free throws, and added a layup during an 8-0 Hutch run that gave them an 83-76 lead with 4:13 left.
The Blue Dragons didn't put the game away, however, until Nunn dunked with 23.4 seconds left, stretching a five-point lead to 89-82.
The Blue Dragons won't likely get an easy one in Tuesday's quarterfinals when they play Cloud County for a third time this season.
Tuesday's game - Tickets for Tuesday's Region 6 quarterfinals will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Sports Arena. Reserved tickets are $7.
The women will play Seward County at 5:30 p.m., with the men taking on Cloud County at 7:30 p.m.