By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Seward sent a statement throughout the Jayhawk West that they plan to defend their status as the three-time defending Jayhawk West champions with a dominating win over Hutchinson, 98-76, Saturday in the Greenhouse.
And the game wasn’t that close.
Seward dominated from the tip, and an expected run by the Blue Dragons to make it a game never came.
The Saints took control early and never gave the Blue Dragons an easy look at the basket all night in front of a near capacity crowd.
The Hutchinson defense had no answers for the Saints who shot 57 percent for the game including 63 percent in the second half.
Hutchinson only shot 38 percent.
Blue Dragon coach Steve Eck watched in disbelief as his Blue Dragons missed shot after shot, and the Saints were able to run their offense and end almost every possession with points.
“I thought we played with tremendous energy on the defensive side of the ball for most of the game,” Seward coach Bryan Zollinger said. “Offensively we moved the ball to open people and penetrated hard.”
Seward never trailed and started the game with a Bryan Bridgeforth putback basket that set the tone for the night.
Seward had a 15-10 lead after a Quentin Purtue jumper, but the Blue Dragons were able to narrow the lead to 22-20 with 11:58 to go.
Hutch would never get close again.
Malcolm Hill-Bey nailed a three to spark a 10-1 Seward run, and the Saints took an 11-point lead with 8:21 to play in the first half.
Hutch trimmed the lead to nine with 4:51 remaining in the half, but it was the last time the Blue Dragons wouldn’t face a double digit deficit the rest of the night.
Seward responded with an 8-1 run to take a 45-29 lead, and after a Niem Stevenson three just before half, the Saints had a 50-34 lead.
Seward didn’t let up in the second half.
Hill-Bey drilled another three in the first possession of the second half to build a 19-point lead, and the Blue Dragons continued to struggle on offense.
Hutch was able to use the free throw line to keep the Seward lead around 20, but for eight minutes the Blue Dragons never made a field goal.
After another set of free throws, Hutchinson was again shut out from the field for another seven minutes.
During that time, the Saints built an 81-54 lead.
The Saints biggest lead came after two free throws from Tyreke Sharp gave the Saints a 91-60 advantage with 2:10 to play.
Hutchinson was able to reduce the 31-point Seward lead with back-to-to-back three pointers with just over a minute to play, but the Saints had already buried the Blue Dragons with dunks from Bridgeforth and Purtue, and outside bombs from Hill-Bey, Stevenson, Sharp and Evan Allen.
“I think everyone we have can contribute in some way,” Zollinger said. “Maybe it’s just being a defensive player and not turning the ball over. That’s huge.”
Zollinger had to play the bench when Purtue was called for his third foul in the first half.
“That was a coaching mistake,” Zollinger said. “We shouldn’t have had Q in that position. Late in the game we decided if our guys fouled out, they fouled out. We went with the starters, hold the lead and it would be too far out of reach.”
Stevenson led the Saints with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Hill-Bey and Secan Johnson each scored 19, Bridgeforth added 14, and Sharp had 11.
Seward started the season 4-6 and have now won nine in a row including the first three Jayhawk West conference games.
That turnaround didn’t happen on game night, according to Zollinger.
“They have to be willing to listen and work at practice,” he said. “We are going to come to work every day and make them better. If they have that attitude, we will continue to improve.”
Big game for not
The win over Hutch was big, but it was only a piece of a bigger pie, according to Zollinger.
“This is a big game, but if we win it and lose the rest it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We have to keep it in perspective.”