PARK CITY — No. 24-ranked Barton Community College zoomed into Saturday night's National Junior College Athletic Association 2013 Region VI Championship title game, beating defending region champion Seward County 70-64 on Friday night in a semifinal at Hartman Arena.
Al Key scored a game-high 22 points, including 13 in the first half, to lead Barton. He also had a team-best five assists, and Kevin Kuteyi came off the bench to score 15 points for the Cougars, who led 36-34 at halftime, trailed midway through the second half, got the lead back and held on in the late going.
"I just wanted to stay aggressive on offense and give my team a chance," said Key, who buried 10 of 23 field goals and 2 of 4 free throws. "At least get the ball up there. The ones that didn't go in, my teammates were there to put it back.
"(The Saints) were pressuring me at the beginning of the game, denying me the ball, so I just wanted to come off screens and work on that and try to get my teammates open. If I had a lane, I'd try to take it."
Barton (28-5) plays ninth-ranked Hutchinson at 7 in the title game. Hutch throttled No. 2-ranked Coffeyville 85-62 in Friday's other semifinal. An automatic berth to the national tournament at the Hutchinson Sports Arena will be at stake between Barton and Hutch, who split during the regular season, each winning at home.
Seward and Barton also split during the regular season; the Cougars winning in Liberal, and Seward prevailing in Great Bend.
"It was a big win," Kuteyi said. "They beat us last, so they came in here extra confident, and we looked at this as the tiebreaker game.
"We came out strong and played as a team. We're ready for any game we have to play."
The Cougars' Andell Cumberbatch also scored in double figures, finishing with 10 points, and Barton outrebounded the Saints 42-35. Post players Rapheal Stephens and Raheem Johnson came up big with 12 and 10 rebounds, respectively.
Seward (25-8) was led by Kaheem Ransom with 14 points. Jabari Peters and Malcolm Hill-Bey added 11 apiece for the Saints, the three-time Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Western Division champions, who captured the region crown last season and finished third at the national tourney.
"It's big because Seward had won 10 in a row," Barton head coach Craig Fletchall said. "You've got to go through Seward ... No. 3 in the nation with a lot of returning players."
Seward County had its first lead with 17½ minutes remaining, 40-39, on 6-10 post player Brian Bridgeforth's resounding slam dunk.
The Saints later enjoyed a 51-45 lead with 13 minutes remaining after Hill-Bey's 3-pointer.
Highlighted by a Kuteyi 3-pointer and a three-point play by Key, Barton went back up 55-54 with 7:17 left.
Seward retook the lead at 60-55 after post player Edson Avila scored inside to cap six unanswered points near the six-minute mark.
But Kuteyi answered with a 3-ball from the left-corner pocket, and then Key hit a pull-up jumper, tying the game at 60 with 4:35 left.
The Cougars' Turon Parker stole the inbounds pass and was fouled. He made the second of two foul shots for a 61-60 lead, and Key nailed a perimeter jumper to push the lead to 63-60 with 3:38 remaining.
Kuteyi hit a driving layup at the 2:20 mark for a 65-60 edge, and then Stephens made the first of two free throws with 1:05 to go for a 66-60 advantage.
Seward never recovered.
Barton, which led the entire first half, shot 48.4 percent from the field (15 for 31) in building its two-point lead.
In the first half, Key made 6 of 9 shots and had 13 first-half points. Kuteyi had seven points during that stretch.
The Cougars held a 9-2 lead just 3:04 into the game, pushing the tempo from the start. Stephens scored a basket inside, Key hit a driving layup, Kuteyi nailed a 3-pointer and Key nailed a pull-up jumper.
Key later converted a three-point play and then hit a mid-range basket before Parker's pull-up jumper made it 18-10 Cougars with 11:53 remaining before halftime.
Seward later carved the margin to 24-20 after Ransom's basket, but Parker answered with a trey on the other end to push the margin back up to 27-20 at the 6:50 mark.
Fletchall used essentially a five-guard lineup for the better part of the final eight minutes of the half, with swingman Cumberbatch the only player not a true guard on the floor.
Seward was able to cut the margin to two points at the break, keyed by Ransom's 3.
The Cougars held Seward to 39.3-percent shooting in the opening half (11 for 28), where Ransom had 12 first-half points.
NJCAA 2013 Region VI
At Hartman Arena
Barton Community College 70, Seward County 64
Algie Key 10-23 2-4 22, Kevin Kuteyi 6-14 0-0 15, Andell Cumberbatch 4-4 2-2 10, Rapheal Stephens 2-2 4-6 8, Turon Parker 2-7 3-6 8, Raheem Johnson 3-8 0-0 6, John Goodson 0-0 1-2 1, Shaka Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Trey Unrau 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 27-63 12-20 70.
SEWARD COUNTY (25-8)
Kaheem Ransom 4-13 5-7 14, Malcolm Hill-Bey 4-8 1-1 11, Jabari Peters 3-17 5-6 11, Edson Avila 3-5 2-3 8, Jerry Cobb 2-5 2-2 6, Leslee Smith 1-2 3-4 5, Brian Bridgeforth 2-3 1-2 5, Briston White 2-2 0-0 4, Quentin Purtue 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 19-25 64.
Halftime — Barton 36, Seward 34. Three-point goals — Barton 4-15 (Kuteyi 3-6, Parker 1-3, Unrau 0-5, Key 0-1); Seward 3-17 (Hill-Bey 2-4, Ransom 1-5, Cobb 0-2, Peters 0-6). Rebounds — Barton 42 (Stephens 12, Johnson 10, Key 8); Seward 35 (Smith 6, Avila 6, Bridgeforth 6). Assists — Barton 11 (Key 5, Parker 4); Seward 7 (Ransom 3). Steals — Barton 11 (Parker 3, Key 2, Stephens 2); Seward 10 (Ransom 2, Peters 2, Bridgeforth 2, Hill-Bey 2). Turnovers — Seward 14, Barton 13. Blocked shots — Barton 3 (Key, Parker, Johnson); Seward 3 (Smith 2). Total fouls — Seward 19, Barton 18. Fouled out — None.
NJCAA 2013 REGION VI
No. 24 Barton 70, Seward County 64
No. 9 Hutchinson 85, No. 2 Coffeyville 62
No. 3 Hutchinson 60, Butler 59
Cowley 68, No. 13 Garden City 52
No. 3 Hutchinson vs. Cowley, 5 p.m.
No. 9 Hutchinson vs. No. 24 Barton, 7