Blue Dragons advance in men’s NJCAA first round

Sports

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) – Six players scored in double figures as the Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team became the fifth team in NJCAA Tournament history to reach 50 all-time wins.

The No. 16-seeded Blue Dragons pulled away in the second half Monday to defeat 17th-seed Kilgore College 95-86 in an opening-round matchup to begin the 2021 tournament at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.

The Blue Dragons (19-6) will now play No. 2-ranked and NJCAA Tournament top-seed Mineral Area at 2 p.m. on Tuesday in the second round. Kilgore closes its season at 17-6.

Hutchinson joined Moberly Area, Vincennes, College of Southern Idaho and San Jacinto in the NJCAA Tournament 50-win club. The Blue Dragons are now 50-25 all-time in the tournament, including 13-5 in the opening round.

The Blue Dragons led 39-38 at halftime and then tied a season-high second-half offensive output, outscoring the Rangers 56-48 in the final 20 minutes.

The key stat was rebounding for Hutchinson. The Blue Dragons were a plus-3 in rebounding margin and Kilgore had six offensive rebounds. The Dragons out-rebounded Kilgore 23-15 and the Rangers had just four offensive boards.

Sophomore Jaden Okon led the Blue Dragons with 16 points on 4 of 6 shooting and a career-high 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. Okon scored all 16 points in the second half.

Sophomore Josh Baker was also 8 for 8 from the line to finish with 15 points. Baker tied Bryant Selebangue for team-high rebounding honors with seven.

Majok Kuath, Stephan Gabriel and Isaiah Bujdoso had 12 points each and Chris Robinson added 11.

The Blue Dragons shot 47.1 percent for the game (33 of 70), including 2 of 13 from 3-point range and 27 of 31 from the free-throw line.  Hutchinson out-rebounded Kilgore 40-29 and had just 10 turnovers.

Kilgore became the first time this season to shoot 50 percent against the Blue Dragons, shooting 31 of 62 from the field).

The Rangers had a one-two scoring punch who combined for 63 points. KJ Jenkins hit 5 of 14 from 3-point range and finished with 34 points. Da’Sean Nelson had 29 points on 11 of 17 shooting. The rest of the Kilgore team scored 21 points.

Kilgore was 7 of 19 from 3-point range and 17 of 23 from the free-throw line.

The Rangers had an early six-point lead at 10-4 after Dantwan Grimes 3-pointer. The Dragons came back to tie the game at 12-all on a Selebangue layup with 12:44 to play in the half.

The Blue Dragons built their largest lead of the first half of six when Baker scored inside with 8:03 to play for a 25-19 Dragon lead. The Rangers tied the game at 35-all on a Nelson dunk with 1:52 to go. Two Gabriel free throws with 55 seconds left gave Hutch a three-point lead, but Kilgore’s Stephan Morris scored with 32 seconds left for a 39-38 Hutchinson halftime lead.

With Kilgore leading 49-48, the Blue Dragons went on a 7-0 run capped by two Okon free throws with 14:02 to play for a 55-49 Hutchinson lead. The Dragons took their first double-figure lead at 68-57 with 9:36 left on a Kuath layup.

Then leading 76-67, the Blue Dragons used a 9-4 run to lead 85-70 after a Chris Robinson layup with 4:10 to play.

GAME NOTES: This was head coach Steve Eck’s 650th win as a junior college head coach. … This was the Eck’s 468th Jayhawk Conference coaching victory. He breaks a tie with Barton’s Craig Fletchall for third place on the KJCCC career wins list and fifth place on the Region VI coaching wins list. … Eck is now 10-4 all-time in the NJCAA Tournament with the Blue Dragons. … This was all-time win No. 1,848 for the Blue Dragons.

(Hutchinson C.C. Athletics contributed information to this article.)

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