HUTCHINSON, Kan. — A dominant first half and another strong performance from the Howard College starting five propelled No. 13 seed Howard College to a 63-54 victory over Eastern Mississippi (20th seed) Monday to open National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament play at the Sports Arena.
Of Cameron Forte's 18 points, 16 came in the first stanza. The Hawks (29-5) opened the game with a 12-0 run, putting the Lions (20-8) in the hole early.
“We got off to a great start,” HC Head Coach Mark Adams said. “We controlled the tempo of the game. We had a spot where we couldn't score in the second half, but luckily they had a couple spots like that, too. We survived, we advanced and we got by the first one.”
As the game wore on, East Mississippi settled down and started hitting its shots. The Lions also outrebounded the Hawks 42-35, including a 21-10 advantage in offensive boards which led to a slew of second chance points for the Lions.
At the free throw line, HC struggled, but hit five-of-six in the final minutes to hold off a late rally by East Mississippi.
The Lions' comeback in the middle of the second stanza brought them within five points, but the shaky start aside, they hit just three-of-31 from the three-point range and only 20-of-64 from the field.
Meanwhile, the Hawks shot sharply for much of the outing, hitting 23-of-45 buckets from field goal range.
Ladon Carter racked up 12 points for HC, while the 7-foot Goran Huskic had a double-double — 10 points, 10 rebounds. Point guard Rico Richardson hit six and rounding out the starters was Jacob Thomas, who despite missing all of his three-point attempts added seven to the Hawks' total.
“I think the guys that played the best were (Richardson) and (Huskic). (Huskic) had a big three and 10 rebounds for us and (Richardson) had some great defensive plays. They were a big part of the win. Now, we need some more consistency from the other guys, we need more points off of our bench.”
Scoring off the bench were DaShaun Wiggins with seven and Phillip Miller with three.
It was an exciting win for Howard, but now they have the undesirable task of facing the home team — Hutchinson Community College (31-1) in front of a sold out crowd before they can advance to the next round.
The Blue Dragons won Region VI outright, but the Adams and the Hawks — who received an at-large bid to the tourney after a 60-59 loss to New Mexico Junior College in the Region V championship — have some experience on their side.
Adams brought home a national title from Hutchinson in 2010, and this his is Howard College's eighth overall appearance at the national tourney. This will be the first meeting between HC and Hutchinson since 1993.
“We're going to have to play poised and keep our composure,” Adams said of today's matchup against the Blue Dragons. “It's certainly be a challenge for us. They haven't been there in, I think, 16 years, so they have been waiting for this game for a long, long time. If we shoot the ball well — which has always been our strong suit — and we can rebound a little better, we have a chance to win.”
Tip off is slated for 6:30 p.m. today. The game will be broadcast on KBYG and KBST and results will appear in tomorrow's edition of the Herald.