HUTCHINSON, KS — With 9:51 to play in the game, Sheridan College men’s basketball head coach Matt Hammer clapped his hands together in one frustrated swoop.
The Generals missed yet another free throw in a night where not much went smoothly, and their season came to an end.
SC fell to Kaskaskia College 92-80 Monday night in the opening round of the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament at the Hutchinson Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas. The Generals — who were making their first trip to the national tournament since 2006 — ended the season with a 31-4 overall record.
While Sheridan connected on 57 percent (33 of 58) of their shots from the floor, the free-throw line crippled the Generals. They made just 8 of 21 from the charity stripe, while the Blue Devils drained 19 of 21 freebies.
“It was just not our night at the line,” Sheridan’s Sean Sutherlin said.
Sheridan also didn’t thrive from beyond the 3-point arc. The Generals hit 38 percent (8 of 21) from deep. Kaskaskia, in contrast, made 58 percent (11 of 19) of its 3-point attempts and 52 percent (31 of 60) from the floor in general.
Sheridan found itself down as many as 21 in the first half after a horrendous opening 10 minutes. Kaskaskia landed the first punch, taking a 10-2 lead before expanding that advantage to 33-12 at the 9:55 mark. The torrid start included six 3s in a span where the Generals had only five made field goals.
“I think part of it is some nerves and some jitters,” Hammer said. “You can’t spot a team 20 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. We were in catch-up mode the rest of the night.
“A lot of things factored into [the slow start]. It was a big environment, big game, and we just didn’t come out locked in.”
The opening few minutes also saw AJ Bramah get into rare foul trouble. He picked up his second foul just 3 minutes and 11 seconds into the game, which seated him on the bench until the second half.
Bramah — who entered the game averaging north of 13 points per contest — couldn’t stay out of foul trouble in the remaining 20 minutes, either, and ended the game without a single point.
“He’s one of the biggest parts on our team, and when we don’t have him, we struggle a lot,” Sutherlin said.
Sheridan met its 21-point, first-half deficit head on in the form of a 12-0 run. The quick shot of life featured points from four different players.
That theme permitted for most of the evening. The Generals had four in double figures, led by Sean Sutherlin’s game-high 21 points. Cam Reece added 19 points and nine rebounds, while Sasa Vuksanovic and Adam Eleeda chipped in 13 and 12 points, respectively.
The Generals, who trailed 47-37 at halftime, landed its strongest jab in the opening stages of the second half. They went on a 9-0 run — Vuksanovic scoring back-to-back buckets — which made it a 51-49 game with 16:38 to left to play. Sheridan took its first and only lead of the game on a Javary Christmas traditional 3-point play, which made it 57-56 with 13:53 left.
But the slight advantage was short-lived — 15 seconds to be precise.
Kaskaskia — which was led by Parker Dortch’s 21 points — made consecutive treys in a 30-second span in response to its one-point deficit. Another 6-0 spurt put the Blue Devils up nine, at 68-59, with 10:26 to play.
An Eleeda 3 cut Sheridan’s deficit to 77-73 with 4:17 left, but the Generals couldn’t muster up enough stops down the stretch.
While the end stings and will taste bitter for awhile, the Generals took a significant step this season. After not being chosen from the at-large pool last year, a trip to Hutchinson was priority No. 1 this season, and Sheridan accomplished that, being chosen for an at-large bid.
“This has meant everything to us,” Sheridan’s Elijah Blake said. “It has been our goal from the jump. We got a great coach, a coach that instilled in us from our first practice that we are a good team, and that we had the potential to go to this tournament. We didn’t go as deep as we planned to go, but this is what we worked for.”
Blake is one of four freshman who will likely come to the forefront next season, as the Generals will look to replace 11 sophomores.
“We have to replace guys like Cam Reece, AJ Bramah, Sean Sutherlin, Josh Bagley,” Hammer said. “Those guys just don’t grow on trees. What they did for our program is huge, and it’s something we’ll never forget.”
Kaskaskia College…47 45 — 92
Sheridan College…..37 43 — 80
Kaskaskia College — Dortch 21; Belcher 19; Bell 19; Thomas 12; Walker 11; Nottingham 10
Sheridan College — Sutherlin 21; Reece 16; Vuksanovic 13; Eleeda 12; Blake 8; Christmas 5; Gummers 3; Bagley 2
Kaskaskia College 29 (Bell 7); Sheridan College 32 (Reece 9)
Kaskaskia College 19 (Nottingham 7); Sheridan College 14 (Bagley 5)