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Howard knocks out Hutchinson at NJCAA tourney

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at 11:28 p.m.

— Howard’s Jacob Thomas came out of the tunnel leading to the court at the Sports Arena on Tuesday night and gazed out over the 7,000-plus fans packed to capacity, screaming, on their feet, crammed into every nook and cranny waiting for the first game at the NJCAA Tournament in 16 years for Hutchinson Community College.

And he liked what he saw.

"I like the big games, the big atmospheres," Thomas said. "We knew what we were in for by playing against the home team."

What Thomas didn’t know -- and what the Blue Dragons were about to find out — was that one of the greatest shooting nights in the tournament’s history was about to send those many thousands home unhappy.

Behind Thomas’ 31 points — including nine three-pointers — Howard, Texas, eliminated the Blue Dragons and advanced to play Vincennes, Ind., on Thursday.

"We guarded him at 22, 23 feet and (Thomas) keeps stepping back and hitting them," Hutchinson coach Steve Eck said. "I knew he was a good shooter coming in, I guess I just didn’t realize how good."

Thomas hit two three-pointers in the first minute of the game, but the first half belonged to the Blue Dragons and All-Jayhawk West guard A.J. Spencer, who scored 18 points and guided Hutchinson to a 38-30 lead at halftime, ending things on a 9-0 run.

"I told our guys we needed to guard, needed to play defense much, much better," Howard coach Mark Adams said. "And they came out and did that very well. As far as Jacob ... I think he’s the best shooter in the country so it doesn’t surprise me he shot so well."

Trailing 50-43 with 13:49 left in the game, Howard outscored Hutchinson 23-6 over the next six minutes, capped off by three straight three-pointers from Thomas for a 64-56 lead.

Hutchinson couldn’t cut into the lead because the Blue Dragons couldn’t hit shots in the second half, going 7 of 34 from the field. Spencer had two points in the second half.

"I just wish I would’ve been more aggressive with the ball," Spencer said. "I wasn’t attacking like I was in the first half."

Howard forward Cameron Forte kept Hutchinson off-balance in the paint, scoring 26 points and attacking Hutchinson forward Alex Davis the entire game. Howard pushed its lead into double digits with just under five minutes left and didn’t look back.

Jayhawk West player of the year Kadeem Allen added 17 points for Hutchinson. Davis, the career and single-season leader in blocks for the Blue Dragons, finished with 11 points , 8 rebounds and 4 blocks.

Topeka Highland Park product Rico Richardson finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds and a game-high 9 assists for Howard. Richardson redshirted at Hutchinson two years ago.

"I feel like we still had a successful season," Davis said. "It’s a disappointing end, for sure, but you can’t take anything away from the great game Howard played. (Hutchinson) has some great players coming back ... it’s on those guys to get back to the national tournament."

HOWARD (30-5): Forte 10-17 6-6 26, Miller 0-2 2-2 2, Richardson 0-4 6-6 6, Thomas 11-20 0-2 31, Joseph 0-0 0-0 0, Fuggins 0-1 1-2 1, Wiggins 4-6 4-7 14, Carter 5-5 0-2 10, Huskic 0-5 2-2 2, Reynolds 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-60 21-29 92.

HUTCHINSON (31-4): Campbell 3-11 0-0 8, Davis 3-9 5-7 11, Pyle 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 4-11 9-12 17, Spencer 9-15 1-2 20, Whittingham 0-2 2-2 2, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Henley 1-3 3-6 5, Nunn 3-9 0-0 6. Totals 23-60 20-29 69.

Halftime--Hutchinson 38, Howard 20. Three-point shooting--Howard 11-28 (Thomas 9-18, Wiggins 2-4, Huskic 0-2, Richardson 0-3, Miller 0-1 ). Hutchinson 3-16 (Campbell 2-5, Spencer 1-3, Davis 0-2, Allen 0-3, Nunn 0-3). Rebounds--Howard 38 (Forte 9). Hutchinson 38 (Davis 8). Assists--Howard 18 (Richardson 9). Hutchinson 16 (Campbell 5, Davis 5). Technicals--Howard (bench) Hutchinson (bench, Nunn). Att.--7,000

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