By ROY ALLEN
• Daily Leader
It had been talked about all week leading up to the Seward County Saints big matchup in the Beaver Dome Wednesday night against Pratt. The Beavers liked to shoot the three ball and if they started falling, they very well could stake themselves out to a big lead. But what that style could also do if the shots weren’t falling, was allow your opponent to get back into the game. Right on script Wednesday night, the 13-2 Pratt Beavers came out of the gates on fire building a 19 point lead at one point, but when things went cold, the Saints took advantage, creeping back into the game before taking the lead and holding onto it to move to 3-0 in conference play with a strangle hold now on the competition.
When the 2009-2010 Jayhawk West basketball schedule was released, the Seward County Saints January 13th date with Pratt defiantly wasn’t one that was circled on the calendar for anyone in Liberal. Most probably looked at the opener with Hutchinson or their road matchup with Barton County as the games to watch but few also expected the 13-2 and 2-0 start in conference play by the upstart Beavers. With the way the cards have fallen, Wednesday’s tangle with Pratt ended up being the game of the night as both teams battled to move to 3-0 in conference play, but only one would come out with that mark. Pratt started on fire and Seward the opposite end of the spectrum as the Beavers raced out to an 11-0 lead to open the game and then pushed all the way out to a 32-13 lead as Seward fans remained in relative shock. Pratt’s hot start was thanks in part to an 8 for 10 start from the three point line and a blistering 70% shooting start from the field. The Beavers would cool down as the first half came to an end and Seward was able to work their way back into striking distance as the half came to a close and the teams went to the locker rooms.
The Saints faced a 10 point, 42-32 deficit as second half play started and after some physical play, they were able to cut the Pratt lead to 8 and then 5 after a trio of free throw makes to make the score 51-46 in favor of the Beaves with 13:16 remaining to play. The Saints would continue their strong defensive pressure through the middle part of the second half and cashed a pair of turnovers into four points to get to within 2 with just over 7 minutes remaining in the game. With just over 3 minutes to go, Jon Tassin called for the ball and found nothing but the bottom of the net to give Seward its first lead of the game at 68-67. A Pratt free throw later tied the contest at 70 a piece but an offensive rebound and put back from Marky Nolen would give Seward the lead again at 72-70, a lead in which they would never give back. Up 74-72 with just 9 second to go in the game, Marcus James pulled a rebound down for Seward and was immediately fouled to send him to the line with a chance to ice the game. With no Saints in to rebound against the four Beavers in their places to get a James miss, the Seward sophomore knocked down the first free throw but with a chance to put the Saints up two possessions with a second make, missed his next try. Just when you thought things might get interesting with the James miss, he grabbed his own rebound against four Pratt Beavers and was put on the line again with a foul with just under 6 seconds to go. Given a second chance, James wouldn’t relinquish the opportunity again, drilling the first free throw to more less seal the game as a meaningless desperation three by Pratt at the buzzer would come up short and the Saints would escape with the 4 point win 76-72.
The Saints were led offensively by Tony Smith who turned in an 18-point, 9-rebound, 9-assist performance with Oklahoma Head Coach Jeff Capel in attendance to watch the Seward point guard. Along with the free throws to seal the game, Marcus James finished with 15 points and 3 boards while Marky Nolen and Latiq Agard had 13 points apiece inside and combined for 13 rebounds. Jon Tassin buried a pair of big three’s in the contest and finished the game with a team high 4 steals to couple with his 10 points and 3 rebounds. The Saints finished the game shooting 51% as a team as Pratt cooled off from a blistering start to shoot 44% as a group. After starting 8 for 10 from the three point line, the Beavers went just 3 for 17 in the game’s final 35 minutes from the great beyond as Seward chipped away and eventually came away with the victory. Even with the 6’11 Illiwa Baldwin inside for Pratt, the Saints came out ahead 34/27 on the rebounding front and forced 23 Beaver turnovers while committing 21 of their own.
The 23rd ranked Saints are now 13-3 overall and 3-0 in Jayhawk West Conference play after picking up their 7th straight win Wednesday night. The Saints will return home Saturday night as they take on Cloud County in the Greenhouse at 8:00. The buyout sponsor for the 8:00 tip is First National Bank who will have free tickets available through game time Saturday at all three of their Liberal locations. Saturday night will be the first of 7 gameday poster nights as Donte McCarter will be the featured Saint, so pick up your Donte McCarter poster at either entrance and have him sign it at halftime of the Women’s game outside the concession stand.