By Bailey Terry
In a packed Sports Arena, the Blue Dragon basketball team took on the No. 13 Bruins of Salt Lake Community College on March 19 in the championship game of the NJCAA tournament.
The Dragons lost the game 74-64.
The leading scorer for Hutch was Bashier Ahmed, Bronx, New York, in his last career game as a Blue Dragon.
Ahmed had 22 points, two assists, and one steal.
Behind him was Shakur Juiston, Paterson, New Jersey, and Akbar Hoffman, Newark, New Jersey, each with nine points.
Juiston was the leading rebounder for the Dragons, with 13 rebounds.
After a big first-half lead, the Blue Dragons easily made their way to the semifinals after a March 17 quarterfinal game against Northwest Florida State, defending national champions, by a 116-90 margin.
There were five Dragons scoring in double digits.
With a career-high from Samajae Haynes-Jones, Wichita, who scored 33 points and added four assists, the Dragons were able to prevail over the reigning champs and move onto the semifinals against Ranger College.
Haynes-Jones was 11-18 from the field and 10-12 from the foul line.
While Juiston wasn’t the top scorer, he did score 19 points and made 9 of 11 field goals, aiding to the Dragons’ win.
Overall, the Dragons out-rebounded their opponents 49-36 and shot 61%.
In the semifinals, the Dragons won in overtime after a come-from-behind win against Ranger College on March 18.
The score was 84-81, with the Dragons headed to the championship game.
The overtime thriller had a total of 16 lead changes and 17 ties.
The Dragons ended a spectacular season at 32-5 as the runner-up in the Division I of the NJCAA.
In separate interview sessions with Head Coach Steve Eck and with three Dragon players, Bashier Ahmed, Keanu Pinder, Perth, Australia, and Shakur Juiston, a variety of questions were answered.
What were the best parts of the season that you will always remember?
Coach: The 16-game winning streak and being No. 1 for five weeks. After having a couple of losses, they knew we had to win more conference games to be able to win the conference title and they won 13-straight to clinch the title. They had to win more conference games after a few losses to be able to win the conference overall and to have a bid in the national tournament. Going to the championship game of the NJCAA.
Bashier: Times when me and Ty would compete on the floor. He was my on-court rival. We are really competitive.
Keanu: Coming back against the Rangers when we were down in OT.
As a coach, what did you learn or relearn as you worked with these players?
Coach: You always learn. I had patience, but I learned I needed more patience. The guys always worked hard.
As a player, what did you remember about working with your coach?
Bashier: How he was disciplined, how he was on us and how everyday in practice he would get us to go hard and to play with energy and to be tough.
Keanu: You can never win any arguments. He always wins.
Shakur: He’s a good coach who is just trying to better us for the next level and I appreciate that very much.
What was it like playing in the NJCAA tournament?
Bashier: For the second time, it was an honor since we lost early in the region, but still had a bid into the tournament. It was a great experience playing the best teams. We had one of the best crowds. It was loud in there everyday. It was very exciting.
Keanu: It was a good experience playing the best teams. Playing in the championship game was amazing.
Shakur: It was great, from the crowds to the competition it was all worth coming here for.
Which of your teammates was the biggest joker?
Are you being scouted to a another school?
Bashier: I am committed to St. Johns back at home in New York.
Keanu: Yes, but I can’t say which schools are recruiting me.