By Tony Burns
MONTICELLO - Seeds are what you plant in the garden. Seeds thrown onto a basketball court don’t mean as much as fourth-seeded Junction City proved with a 61-53 victory over No. 1 seeded Harding Academy Tuesday in the 3A State Basketball Tournament.
The Dragons improved to 17-12 and will play Thursday at 8:30 p.m. against the winner between Jessieville and Manila. The Wildcats fell to 22-10.
Junction City was the clear underdog on the bracket and according to the seeding. It was a role Coach Kendall Hutcheson appreciated.
“We said the key was expectations. For us, we went to, at least, the semifinals five years in a row before last year,” he said. “I said before we came here, I said, ‘if your expectations are not to win this game then we’re in the wrong place.’ We expected to win this game. We have expectations to get to the next level. The guys really stepped up and they expected to win.
“I don’t think a whole lot of people thought we were going to do it. But, yeah, I was real proud of our guys. They showed a lot of fight, a lot of effort today. It’s what I expect out of Junction City Dragons.”
Junction City trailed 32-30 at the half and then held Harding Academy to two free throws in the third quarter. Offensively, the Dragons didn’t fare much better but took a 36-34 lead into the fourth quarter after Hishmma Taylor scored on an offensive rebound.
The Wildcats took a 44-43 lead after a 3-pointer by Cole Myers with 3:36 left in the game.
But, Junction City would score the next 11 points in a spurt that lasted just a minute and two seconds.
Jerrodney Tubbs powered inside for a lay-up and a foul. His three-point play with 3:04 remaining, gave the Dragons a 46-44 lead. On the defensive end, Taylor came up with a steal and lay-up.
The Wildcats took a quick shot and missed with Junction City’s Terrell Gibson answering with a drive down the middle of the lane for a bucket, plus the foul. Gibson missed the ensuing free throw but Jalen Davis stole Harding Academy’s outlet pass and fed Shuvasceiaye Frazier for a bucket. Davis would follow with a steal and driving lay-up, which extended the lead to 54-44 with 2:02 left to play.
“Our defense played so well all game. The things they’ve done well on film and been able to have success with all year on film, I thought we did a great job,” said Hutcheson.
“We were guarding 6-5 with 5-11 and just fighting our tail off down there. Those guys did a great job. The defense was the key in winning that ball game. We just played great defense and finally got them to take some bad shots.”
The Wildcats extended the game with fouls. Junction City would miss nine free throws in the final two minutes.
Harding Academy closed the gap to 54-47 with 1:21 remaining. But, Tubbs, after missing a pair of 1-and-1 opportunities, knocked down two at the line. Davis scored on a lay-up and Frazier sank 3-of-6 free throws in the final minute.
Offensively, Tubbs was the go-to man in the paint for the Dragons. He finished with 18 points. Davis added 14 with Frazier scoring 10. Gibson scored five of his eight points in the fourth quarter, including a big 3-pointer early in the final period.
“We were patient. We didn’t do a good job on free throws. That game shouldn’t have been as close as it was. But, we were real patient,” Hutcheson said of his offense. “We didn’t force a lot and we didn’t take a lot of bad shots. We got the shots we wanted to take and didn’t rush a lot. I thought that was key for us on offense.”
Gibson’s 3-pointer was the only long-range shot made by the Dragons in the second half.
“We didn’t want to take bad threes. I don’t mind us shooting threes. But, during the year it seemed like we’d take some questionable threes,” said Hutcheson. “Today, it looked we just took good, solid threes. We were patient with them. We looked for our shot and we didn’t rush it.”
Peydon Harlow and Davis Morgan led Harding Academy with 19 and 13 points, respectively.