PARK CITY — Al Key broke down a Seward County Community College defender or two off dribble penetration, floated through the air and put in a 10-foot shot off the glass.
It was one of many big plays Key made for No. 24-ranked Barton, which zoomed into Saturday’s NJCAA 2013 Region VI Championship title game after toppling defending region champion Seward 70-64 in semifinal action on Friday night at Hartman Arena.
“I just wanted to stay aggressive on offense and give my team a chance,” said Key, who recorded game highs of 22 points and five assists. “At least get the ball up there. The ones that didn’t go in, my teammates were there to put it back.
“They 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.”
Freshman guard Kevin Kuteyi came off the bench to score 15 points for the Cougars (28-5), who played No. 9-ranked Hutchinson on Saturday night in the region final. An automatic berth to the national tournament at Hutchinson Sports Arena on March 18-23 was at stake between the two teams, who split during the regular season, each winning at home.
Seward (25-8) 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 a tiebreaker game.”
Key, who made 10 of 23 field goals and 2 of 4 free throws, was key throughout. The Cougars led 36-34 at halftime, trailed midway through the second half, got the lead back and withstood every run the Saints made thereafter.
Key also overtook former Barton and University of Oklahoma standout Jackie Jones (1,189) for No. 4 on the career scoring list. He had 1,199 points entering Saturday’s game.
“Algie and Hakeem Ransom (of Seward) were both in double figures at halftime and they were clearly two of the best players in our region,” Barton head coach Craig Fletchall said. “Algie had the look of a guy that was going to throw a no-hitter.
“Boy, you could just see that assassin look in him and he just made huge plays. Even though neither team shot real well from 3, he still got enough attention and drew enough contact that we were able to get some putbacks.”
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 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,” 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 cold-shooting Saints, who were 21 for 56 from the field, 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 straight 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 at the 4:35 mark.
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 at the break.
Key made six of his first nine shots and had 13 first-half points,
The Cougars held a 9-2 lead just 3:04 into the game, pushing the tempo from the start.
Barton built eight- to 10-point advantages before the Saints chiseled into the lead by halftime.
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.
NJCAA 2013 Region VI Championship
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.
• Region VI Semifinals
No. 3 Hutchinson 60, Butler 59
Cowley 68, No. 13 Garden City 52
No. 9 Hutchinson 85, No. 2 Coffeyville 62
No. 24 Barton 70, Seward County 64
Barton Community College
Career Scoring List
1,470: Mark Bell 21.6 ppg (1989-91)
1,390: Brandun Hughes 24.4 (1994-96)
1,384: Mark Hutton 20.0 (1990-92)
1,199: Algie Key 18.2 (2011-13)
1,189: Jackie Jones 18.0 (1987-89)