The defending champion Hutchinson Community College Blue Dragons are going to get every team’s best shot.
It’s the sentence handed down for winning a NJCAA title and being ranked No. 1.
On Saturday night at Conestoga Arena in Garden City, the top-ranked Dragons took the best punches the Broncbusters could muster, with the hosts rallying from deficits several times in the second half.
Hutchinson held off each comeback attempt, answering pivotal buckets with one of the Dragons’ own. When Garden City took its first lead since early in the first half with 13:29 to go, the Blue Dragons’ JJ Rhymes answered with a free throw and then a lay up a possession later.
Kai Mitchell added a jumper for good measure.
When Russhard Cruickshank stepped in front of a pass later in the half and struck the other way for an easy two to cut the deficit to two, Rheaquone Treadwell drew a block on the Busters on the other end. He sunk both free throws to extend the lead back to four.
Then Devonta Bandoo blew past the defense in transition and got a bucket to push lead back to five. When they pushed it to seven, the Busters got a three from Theo Holloway, a jumper from Jamir Thomas and then Pierre Johnson drew the Busters even at 64 with a floater off the glass with 1:10 to play.
And Buster sharp-shooter Kendale Hampton even had an open look at the hoop that rattled in and out. Hutch took advantage and Devonte Bandoo calmly sunk a jumper at other end.
Then, Hutchinson survived Holloway’s look at three in the final seconds to hold on to the win.
The first half was a a harbinger of the defensive slugfest to come, with neither team giving an inch of space to the other. Both teams shot 38.7 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, but the difference was Hutchinson hit one more three-pointer (2-1) and went to the line six more times, going 8 of 12 to Garden’s 3 of 6.
The Busters also had eight turnovers to Hutchinson’s four. But they started the game with a punch, provided by the capable hands of Jamir Thomas, who made back-to-back lay ups to begin the game. Thomas had 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, but the Dragons held him to just two in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson’s offense gained some traction, sparked by James Rojas’ three-pointer nine minutes in to give Hutch a 19-16 lead. The 6-foot-7 Rojas then made a lay up, and stripped Thomas a couple of minutes later to set up Curtis Hollis’ fast break lay up.
From the 9:43 mark to the 5:02 mark, the Dragons held the Busters scoreless, building a seven-point lead. Jeff Otchere’s and-1 broke the skid for the Busters, who pulled within four.
Josh Creach scored a putback to send the Dragons into the break with a 34-28 advantage.