EARL WATT • Leader & Times
After faltering in Pratt earlier in the week, the Saints returned to the Greenhouse and battled the No. 12 Butler Grizzles. Despite having an 11-point lead, the Saints had to rally form a second-half deficit to earn an 80-75 win.
Seward led 42-31 at half, but the Grizzles started to chip away at the Saint advantage.
Seward continued to score, but Butler cut the lead little by little during the first 15 minutes of the second and half, and with 4:55 to play the Grizzles finally came all the way back to take a 66-65 lead.
Rob Brown connected on another Grizzly basket with 4:11 to play, and Butler had a 68-65 lead.
Jaylin Henderson connected on a pair of free throws with 2:48 to play to cut Butler’s lead back to one, but Brown connected on another inside shot to stretch Butlers lead back to three with 2:33 to play when he had an emphatic dunk.
But his celebration was in the face of a Saint, and he was whistled for a technical.
Henderson made both free throws to negate the dunk and cut the lead back to one.
Blessin Kimble tied the game after making one of two free throw attempts, but Brown added a pair of free throws for Butler with 2:00 to play to give the Grizzlies a 72-70 lead.
The Saints regained the lead with 1:36 to play when Niko Smith drained a clutch three-point shot, and Kimble added a basket with 49 seconds to lay to build Seward’s lead to 75-72.
Butler attempted to push the ball but committed a turnover, and Henderson converted on the fast break with a lay-up with 41 seconds to play to give the Saints a 77-72 lead.
Kole Scot added a free throw, and Kimble hit a basket with 17 seconds to play to expand Seward’s lead to 80-72.
Kimble had a chance to push the lead to double digits with five seconds to play, but he missed both free throws, and the Grizzlies made a three-point shot with one second to play.
Butler forced a late turnover and attempted another three pointer at the buzzer, but it missed, and the Saints came away with an 80-75 win.
The win was crucial after dropping a road game in Pratt earlier in the week.
“It took a lot of conversation and communication as a team,” Seward coach Riley Hernandez said. “We had to get to some truths. We were focused on ourselves and what was going on with ourselves personally instead of what was going on with us as a collective. We are really deep and talented. We have people who care about people. It didn’t go that way against Pratt. We did some things to hurt ourselves. We had a conversation Thursday and had a chance to dive into some numbers and facts, and I thought it showed.”
The team focus was critical against the No. 12 Grizzles.
“I believe guys being ready to go at a moment’s notice showed,” Hernandez said. “We had to take control of the game with two guys in our starting line up injured.”
Seward went from allowing 53 percent shooting against Pratt to just 35 percent for Butler. And despite Butler erasing the 11-point lead in the second half, the Saints were able to keep close and eventually rally for an eight-point lead before earning the five-point win.
“It was a sense of maturity,” Hernandez said. “Butler is a really great team. They are No. 12 in the country for a reason. For us to take care of them here was going to be a battle. Late we got ourselves in a tough spot and had to claw our way back and find the best way, and our guys stayed together.”
Smith’s clutch three sparked the rally that flipped a five-point deficit into an eight-point lead in the final three minutes.
“Niko (Smith) stepped up and made a big shot,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t be more happy for him. He has been working really hard. He is coming along on the defensive side.”
Seward (4-1) travels to Colby for a Wednesday game before returning to the Greenhouse Saturday to host Dodge City.