Story contribution by Mike Marzolf, Great Bend Tribune
There would be no lethargic start. There would be no big first half deficit to overcome. There would be no blowout. Not this time. No, this time the Barton Community College men's basketball team would go toe-to-toe with the defending NJCAA National Champion Hutchinson Community College Blue Dragons with a late game tying three-pointer rimming out as the No. 19 Cougars would fall 74-69 at Park City's Hartman Arena to send the No. 14 ranked Blue Dragons to their sixth straight Region VI Championship contest.
"We came to play tonight," Head Coach Craig Fletchall said. "I thought we played well. We had our chances. You can look at this play or that play but when it comes down to it, Hutch just made a few more plays than us."
For Barton, it may or may not have ended its season at 27-6. The Cougars will now have to wait until Monday's 11:30 a.m. selection show and see if they are one of eight teams to receive an at-large bid to the NJCAA National Tournament.
"Now we just wait and see," Coach Fletchall said. "There are eight at-large spots and we are just hoping for one of those. We are ranked 19th right now. We just kind of hope chalk prevails in the region tournaments. I think we are one of the best 24 teams but, hey, its out of our hands now."
It didn't look good for the Cougars late in the contest. Barton trailed by eight points with just two minutes to play. But the Cougars had no quit in them.
A turnover by the Blue Dragons gave Barton a chance to get even closer. Webster faked a three on the left wing and drove to the hoop. Unfortunately for Barton, the sophomore lost his footing, slipped and missed the layup.
After two Hutch free throws by Devonte Bandoo, Webster hit 1-of-2 at the line, keeping Barton alive. The Hutch lead grew to 72-66 with two more free throws by Sal Nuhu with 29 seconds remaining.
Kawanise Wilkins hit a trey from just left of the top of the key to trim the lead to 72-69 with 18 seconds left. The Blue Dragons left the door wide open after James Rojas missed two free throws 17 seconds to play.
Barton worked the ball to Wilkins from almost the exact same spot he made a trey 12 seconds earlier. The Chicago freshman had a good look but this time his 3-pointer hit the back iron. The Blue Dragons added two more free throws for the final margin.
Most of the game was back-and-forth. There were 11 lead changes and 10 ties in the contest.
Barton led most of the first half. A driving layup by Webster gave Barton a 10-5 lead early. Barton would hold that lead until 7:30 remained in the half when Hutch went up 23-21.
Hutch led by as many as six after that before Barton came back to take a 37-35 halftime lead.
The start of the second half was a heavyweight fight. The teams traded the lead numerous times.
Bandoo would hit a 3-pointer for Hutch. Keshon Montague would answered with a jumper. JJ Rhymes would hit a layup and Cannon would knocked down a baseline shot.
Hutch would get a steal. Barton would block a shot. It was back-and-forth. Hutch coach Steve Eck would bark at an official. Barton coach Fletchall would plead his case and bury his head in hands.
No team had a lead of more than two points in the half until Rojas hit a layup and was fouled. His free throw made it 50-46 with 10:43 to play.
At that point, Hutch began to pull away. The Blue Dragons lead got as high as 10 after Hutch went on a 15-7 run over five minutes to take a 65-55 lead with 4:48 to play.
The Blue Dragons would hold a lead near 10 points until those final two minutes when the Cougars rallied only to come up just short.
Wilkins scored 16 points and snagged 12 rebounds to lead Barton with his thirteenth double-double of the year. Cannon, who was named the player of the week for the third time this season, posted his fourth double-double of the year with 15 points and 10 rebounds while leading the squad with three steals and three blocks. Montague finished with 14 and handed out five assists while Akeem White added eleven to go along with seven boards helping the Cougars to a six board advantage on the glass including a twelve rebound edge on the offensive glass.
Rojas had another big game against Barton, leading the Blue Dragons with 24 points and nine rebounds. Rhymes added 19 and Bandoo was close behind with 18.