CONCORDIA - Taking on a ranked opponent for the first time this season, the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team would see missed opportunities and unforced errors prove costly as part of an 86-81 home loss to No. 9-ranked Hutchinson Community College inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium on Saturday.
Suffering their second-straight setback, the T-Birds are now 4-3 overall and 0-2 in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference while the Blue Dragons remain unbeaten at 8-0 and 2-0 in KJCCC play.
"At the end of the day, 20 second-chance points and 17 points off turnovers proved to be very costly today," said head coach Devin Kastrup in a post-game interview. "If you look closely at the box score and also watch the film, I don't think that Hutchinson scored on our defense when we played them straight up and forced them into offensive sets."
Trying to avoid the frenetic pace that Hutchinson usually plays early on in the game, CCCC would attempt to slow things down and get five early points from Justin Graham to stake the T-Birds to a 5-2 lead two minutes into the game. The Blue Dragons would respond with a 7-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 9-4 but the T-Birds would battle back with eight of the next 10 points capped off by a Radovan Vidovic layup to take a 12-11 lead with 12:20 remaining in the first half.
With CCCC in front, Cloud County would be able to push their lead out to five at 20-15 on a pair of free throws from Corey Sawyer Jr. and eventually out to six at 24-18 on a Malang Athian alley-oop dunk with 8:25 left in the first period. Both teams would then be held scoreless for the next 2:30 of action as the T-Birds would keep Hutchinson at arm's length to maintain their six-point lead heading into the final two-plus minutes of the opening half.
A 34-28 Cloud County lead would quickly be erased by a 9-3 HCC run as the Blue Dragons would find their range from beyond the arc to tie things up at 37-37. Following a layup from Sawyer Jr. to give CCCC the lead once more, Hutchinson would score the final five points of the half to take a 42-39 lead into the break.
After leading for much of the first half, Cloud County would see the Blue Dragons score seven of the first nine points to go up 49-41 2:28 into the second half. The lead for HCC would continue to hover between the four and seven-point range for the next six-plus minutes of game time as the T-Birds would be unable to get within three until a Joe Kearney layup with 10:54 remaining to get within three at 58-55.
It would take until the 8:13 mark of the second half for Cloud County to get back within a point on an Athian layup as the Blue Dragons would turn away each potential chance for the T-Birds to reclaim the lead. Trailing 70-69 with 4:45 remaining, Cloud County would give up a 7-2 run to HCC to trail 77-71 with 3:22 remaining before seeing the Hutchinson lead grow to nine at 81-72 a minute later. Despite multiple attempts and opportunities on the offensive end by CCCC, Hutchinson would manage to keep the game out of reach down the stretch with the T-Birds unable to mount a comeback late.
The biggest difference in the game would prove to be a 20-11 advantage for HCC in second-chance points as well as a 17-10 advantage in points off turnovers. The Blue Dragons would also hold a 50-36 advantage in rebounding and hit six threes compared to just two for CCCC. As a team, Cloud County would finish 27-for-57 (47.4 percent) from the field and 25-of-36 (69.4 percent) from the charity stripe but would miss three free throws in the final four minutes of the game when needed the most.
Led by their starting five, CCCC would have four starters finish in double-figures including a team-best 10 points and four assists from Sawyer Jr. Athian would add 16 points and eight rebounds while Duckworth (12 points) and Graham (10 points) would also be big contributors offensively. Just missing out on a double-digit performance would be Kearney with nine points despite four rebounds and three steals in 33 minutes of action. Hutchinson would get a game-best 23 points from Angelo Stuart and 20 points from Jacquez Yow to lead the Blue Dragons.
Some pre-Thanksgiving basketball comes up on Tuesday for Cloud County as the T-Birds will host Independence CC for an 8 p.m. tip-off inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium. Independence has lost three straight, including a 104-84 road loss to Colby on Saturday afternoon to fall to 5-3 overall and 0-2 in the KJCCC.