In the semifinals Wednesday, Neosho sophomore Freddie McSwain brought the Panthers back against Butler using an array of dramatic dunks.
In Thursday’s final, he scored inside, then stepped out and sank a three-pointer for an eight-point lead, and the Panthers went on to a 66-58 victory over Hutchinson in the Region VI final.
McSwain finished with a game-high 17 points and was named the tournament’s MVP. Neosho earned a berth into the NJCAA tournament, which begins March 14 in Hutchinson.
McSwain said perimeter points are nothing new.
“My coach (Jeremy Coombs) said that since they were backing off of me to go ahead and shoot the ball,” McSwain said. “I hadn’t been shooting the ball (from outside) recently, so then, I remembered that I could shoot the ball. So, I shot the ball, and my team had confidence in me all season. I shot it, and I made it and said, ‘Let’s get it.’”
He had just five points at halftime, but came alive in the second half, and the Panthers (29-5) managed to hold on and earn the region’s automatic bid to the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson.
“As soon as he let it go, I knew it was in,” said Neosho freshman Tucker Thompson, who led Neosho with three three-pointers. “He shoots that in practice, and he makes it, so I’ve got confidence in him, and I know everyone else on the team does, too.
“He’s a versatile player, and (Thursday) he showed what he can do.”
Unlike the first two rounds of the tournament, Neosho didn’t have to mount a big comeback to win. The Panthers trailed Hutchinson (29-4) in the first half but stormed back and took a 32-24 halftime lead. Hutchinson then regained the lead with about 12 minutes to play, but a layin by McSwain gave Neosho a 45-42 lead, and the Panthers never trailed again.
“We wanted to go out and defend them,” Coombs said. “We thought that was the biggest thing offensively. Going out and defending was our focus. Obviously, they’re much bigger than us, and I thought our guys did that for 40 minutes.”
Neosho has worn a patch on its uniforms with the initials “HT” on it, and Coombs said that was in memory of Harold Turner, a longtime Panthers fan who died last summer.
“Several years ago, I saw him get in the stands,” Coombs said. “He was sick and had cancer. It looked like it was painful for him to sit in the stands, so went and bought him a recliner, and he sat down next to our bench for years.
“He passed away this past summer, but I always had told him that I’d win him a championship. I never got the opportunity to do that while he was here, but I know he was here helping us out. I know he saw it.”
Hutchinson will also be in the national tournament because it won the Jayhawk Conference’s regular-season title.
NEOSHO: Thompson 10, Downing 2, Moon 7, McSwain 17, Granberry 9, Lee 4, Jackson 9, Donart 3, Griggs 5.
HUTCHINSON: Hoffman 6, Ahmed 16, Haynes-Jones 12, Pinder 12, Juiston 10, Conley 2.
Halftime – Neosho 32, Hutchinson 24. Three-pointers – Hutchinson 1-15 (Hoffman 1-7, Pinder 0-1, Conley 0-1, Ahmed 0-2, Haynes-Jones 0-4); Neosho 8-19 (Thompson 3-8, Jackson 2-4, McSwain 1-1, Donart 1-2, Moon 1-3, Lee 0-1). Rebounds – Neosho 41 (Jackson 9), Hutchinson 26 (Juiston 11). Assists – Neosho 9 (Moon 4), Hutchinson 3 (Hoffman, Conley, Dennis). Fouls – Neosho 18, Hutchinson 19. Fouled out – Granberry.
Cowley women 67, Seward County 57 – Cowley sophomore Madi Greenwood, a Derby High product, got to put on a show for the home folks, and so teammate Devon Branch will get the chance to perform in her home state.
Greenwood scored 11 of her 15 points in the second half, matching Branch’s total, which came on five three-pointers. Branch, who came to Cowley from Boerne, Texas, was named most valuable player of the tournament. Even though Lubbock, site of the NJCAA women’s tournament, is about 350 miles from home, Branch is hopeful her family will get to see her there.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I hope my family will be able to make it. I’m about five hours away from Lubbock. It’s still going to be a drive either way for my family.”
Greenwood said she knows what coach Todd Clark expects from her.
“My role is to just keep this team together and do as much as I can,” Greenwood said. “I just had to step up and make some plays to help the team win.”
Seward (25-8) posed a problem with 6-foot-7 Joanna Grymek inside as well as 6-1 Axelle Bernard, but the Tigers (27-7) countered with 6-2 freshman Grace Diaz-Brito, who battled Seward’s height and scored eight points as well.
“She had some good jumpers,” Branch said. “In the beginning of the game, I just told her to keep her follow-through, and she did that. I’m very proud of that.”
SEWARD COUNTY: Bernard 12, Galindo 15, White 9, Grymek 10, Richardson 2, Ocuane 3, de Sousa 6.
COWLEY: O’Neil 2, Branch 15, Mimmo 13, Lainge 11, Greenwood 15, McCartney 3, Diaz-Brito 8.
Halftime – Seward County 28, Cowley 27. Three-pointers – Seward County 5-20 (Galindo 3-6, White 1-5, de Sousa 0-1, Bernard 0-2, Richardson 0-5); Cowley 10-24 (Branch 5-9, Mimmo 2-4, McCartney 1-2, Lainge 1-4, Greenwood 1-5). Rebounds – Seward County 29 (Bernard, Galindo 7), Cowley 28 (Diaz-Brito 9). Assists – Seward County 7 (de Sousa 3), Cowley 11 (O’Neil 5). Fouls – Seward County 13, Cowley 14.