PARK CITY – Freshman James Rojas’ first career double-double played a role in the No. 14 Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team advancing to a school-record sixth-straight Region VI Tournament championship game.
Rojas came off the bench to post career high of 22 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Blue Dragons past the Barton Cougars 74-69 in the first Region VI Tournament semifinal at Hartman Arena.
The 28-5 Blue Dragons will play either top-seeded Coffeyville or fifth-seeded Garden City in the men’s championship game at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The Blue Dragons will be looking for their 19th Region VI championship and 21st appearance in the NJCAA Tournament on Wednesday.
This run of Region VI Tournament championship appearances started in 2013. The last time the Blue Dragons appeared in five-straight regional finals was from 1971 through 1975.
Blue Dragon head coach won his 258th game on the Hutchinson bench. That moves him within one victory of tying Charles Sesher for the most coaching wins in Blue Dragon men’s basketball history.
For the second time this season against Barton, Rojas has been a key figure in a Blue Dragon victory over the Cougars. In February, Rojas had 22 points and seven rebounds as the Blue Dragons swept the season series with the Cougars in Great Bend.
On Tuesday, Rojas had 14 points and five rebounds in the opening half, but the Blue Dragons trailed 37-35. Rojas and Hutch leading scorers J.J. Rhymes and Devonte Bandoo combined for 31 points in the second half as Hutchinson outscored Barton in the final 20 minutes 39-32 to win their seventh in a row over the Cougars.
Rojas as 8 of 15 shooting from the floor and 6 of 10 from the free-throw line. He added three assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
Rhymes scored 19 points with five assists and three rebounds in the semifinals. Bandoo had 18 points and six rebounds. Bandoo hit 2 of Hutch’s 3 3-pointers in the game.
Sal Nuhu scored eight points, but sank four critical free throws in the final 29 seconds to secure the victory.
The Blue Dragons shot 47.3 percent (26 of 55) for the game. Hutch shot 52.2 percent (12 of 23) in the second half. The Dragons hit 3 of 9 3-pointers and 19 of 27 from the free-throw line. The Blue Dragons were out-rebounnded 45-39 and had 14 turnovers, six more than the Cougars.
Kawanise Wilkins led the Cougars with 16 points. Marvin Cannon had 15 points, followed by Keshon Montegue with 14 and Akeem White with 11.
Barton shot 33.3 percent from the field (23 of 69), hitting 7 of 31 from 3-point range and 16 of 26 from the foul line.
Barton led 16-11 in the first half and the Blue Dragons answered the challenge with five-straight points on a Rhymes tipin and Bandoo 3-pointer to knot the score at 16 with 11:14 to play in the half. The Dragons used another 6-0 run to build a 31-25 lead after two Rojas free throws with 5:18 to play. Barton closed the half on a 12-4 run to lead 37-35 at halftime.
There were seven lead changes and two ties over the first 7:04 of the second half. With the game tied at 45, a Rhymes jumper gave the Dragons the lead for good. A jumper by Rojas with 6:57 to play extended the Dragon lead to 59-50. Another Bandoo bucket moments later pushed the Dragon cushion to 10 at 65-55 with 4:49 to play.
The Dragons started getting careless with the ball down the stretch and after a Noah Webster 3-pointer with 1:18 to go, the Cougars had cut the Hutch lead to 68-65.
The Dragons did the remaining of their scoring from the foul line. Two Bandoo free throws with 48 seconds left pushed the lead back to two possessions. Nuhu then calmly knocked down a pair of free throws with 29 seconds left to extend the lead to 72-66.
After Wilkins knocked down a guarded trey with 20 seconds to go that cut the Dragon lead to 72-69, Rojas hit 1 of 2 free throws and the Dragons got a defensive stop on a Wilkins’ missed trey. Nuhu grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He hit two more free throws with 5 seconds left to secure the victory.
GAME NOTES – The Blue Dragons are 134-46 all-time in Region VI Tournament history, including 27-15 in the semifinals. … The Dragons are 86-26 all-time vs. Barton. … The Blue Dragons improved to 11-3 against Barton in the Region VI Tournament. … This was all-time Blue Dragon victory No. 1,779. … Devonte Bandoo moved past Todd Christian into 17th place on the Blue Dragon career scoring list with 1,024 points. … Rojas was the eighth different Blue Dragon to post a double-double this season. … The Blue Dragons are 7-3 when trailing at halftime and 3-3 when being out-rebounded.