State Colleges

Balanced Pratt follows defense to NJCAA Tournament

The least dynamic offensive men’s basketball team in the Jayhawk Conference averages more than 76.1 points, so trying to win with defense can be a futile effort.

Pratt coach Jesse Shaw, however, was left with no choice.

With injuries to several contributors, Shaw found a way to get more from the players left standing. Merrill Holden became a defensive stopper in the Region VI tournament, which Pratt won by holding four conference opponents to no more than 71 points.

Those wins allowed Pratt to reach the NJCAA Division I national tournament, where it will play Trinity Valley (Texas) at 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.

No team reached 70 against Pratt in the final three games as the Beavers solidified a different facet of their game following a regular season in which they were one of the Jayhawk’s top shooting clubs.

“I usually turn to the defense and I always believe that it has a lot to do with winning games,” said Shaw, Pratt’s third-year coach. “On our level, sometimes it takes a while to figure out your team – half of your team is a new team every year. I’m not the brightest guy, so sometimes it takes me a little longer to figure my guys out.

“Once I figured them out and allowed them to do what they’re good at, they played really well.”

Pratt rolled through Region VI despite 12 regular-season losses and injuries to second-leading scorer Phoenix Bills, Wichitans Daylin Thomas and Eric Dobbins, and Deshaun Roberts, who may return in Hutchinson.

The Beavers’ depth got them through a crucial portion of the regular season and the Region VI tournament. Pratt doesn’t have stars, but it has balance and an ability to cover every need.

Different Pratt players led or were among the Jayhawk leaders in rebounds (Kevin Allen), three-point percentage (Taylor Schieber), free throw percentage (Robert Davis), and assists (Javis Flynn).

“I don’t know if we win a region championship with those guys healthy,” Shaw said. “You never know how something would change the course of what’s happening. I don’t know why losing those guys would make us better, but we really had some guys step up.”