Hutchinson, Kan. — Another thrilling season of Howard College men's basketball is in the books.
The Hawks — who received an at-large bid to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship tournament — was eliminated Thursday by a scrappy Vincennes squad, 70-65.
It looked like business as usual for Howard in the opening minutes of play.
Point guard Rico Richardson hit a three-point bucket to start the scoring for the Hawks and Cameron Forte — who finished the season with an average of more than 23 points per game — helped control the tempo with consistent shooting inside the paint. Forte had 22 points, bringing his tourney total to 66 — nearly a third of Howard's total offensive output.
“(Forte) played exceptionally well,” Adams said of the season-leading scorer. “(Richardson) also had had a good game.”
The seven-foot native of Serbia, Goran Huskic, sank three 3-pointers — two of which came with just under two minutes to play — then closed out the half with a three-point play, giving the Hawks a 37-29 advantage at the intermission.
Vincennes battled back in the second half, while Howard's offense sputtered a bit.
The pivotal moment came when Forte picked up his fourth foul, forcing Head Coach Mark Adams to sit the 6'7'' freshman briefly as well as alter the offensive game plan.
“The fourth foul changed the momentum,” Adams said. “We couldn't use (Forte) as the go-to guy on offense, but Vincennes played real well. They stuck to the game plan and they out-shot and out-rebounded us. The last six or seven minutes could have gone either way. They made some free throws at the end and we missed some.”
And shooting from the line became the majority of the offensive output for both teams down the stretch.
Following Forte's big foul, Jacob Thomas — who was quiet from three-point range after nailing nine against Hutchinson in the previous game — committed a foul of his own. The Trailblazers made both from the line to bring them within one point of the Hawks, who led by as many as 12 in the same stanza.
It was a back-and-forth battle from the foul line for the duration of the game. Howard only connected for six-of-21 baskets from the field goal range in the second half.
With under seven minutes on the clock, the Hawks and the Trailblazers traded leads when Richardson made a huge three-pointer, putting HC up by four.
Vincennes wouldn't go away.
With 90 second to go, the Trailblazers stole the ball from HC and laid it up, making it a 68-65 game. With 30 seconds remaining, Thomas tossed up his seventh three of the game, but it was no good.
A pair of free throws by Vincennes in the final seconds put the game away.
Huskic finished with 14 points — 12 of which came in the first half. Huskic fouled out in the second half. Scoring seven points apiece for the Hawks were Rico Richardson, Jacob Thomas and Phillip Miller. DaShaun Wiggins, Marcus Fuggins and Ladon Carter combined for eight.
“It was a great experience,” Adams said.. “We'll reload and hopefully get back to the national tournament next year.”
Adams cited his sophomores for their roles in another successful season.
“We're real proud of the sophomores,” Adams added. “To get to the Elite Eight and be nationally ranked all year. Credit goes to those guys and the work they have put in.”
The No. 11 Hawks finished with a 30-6 record overall and won the Western Junior College Athletic Conference title.