Cloud County Athletics
INDEPENDENCE - With three players in double-figures and a pair of 40-point scoring halves, the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team pushed its winning streak to six games on Tuesday evening following an 80-70 road win over Independence Community College inside the Independence CC Gymnasium.
Maintaining an unblemished record within the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, the T-Birds improve to 6-2 on the year and 3-0 in the KJCCC while Independence falls to 3-6 overall and 1-2 in conference play.
Looking out of character in the opening minutes of the game, CCCC would fall behind 5-0 early as the Pirates would get a second-chance bucket following a T-Bird foul and made three off an empty Cloud County possession before seeing Cheikh Sow get the T-Birds on the board with a pair of made free throws. Following the made free throws from Sow, Cloud County would use a Justin Graham layup and Joe Kearney steal and breakaway dunk to take their first lead of the game to set off what would become a stretch of three lead changes over the next three offensive possessions. Holding an 8-7 lead after five minutes of play, the T-Birds would go back to Graham with an open look from three as the Colorado Springs, Colorado native would connect as part of a larger 7-0 CCCC run to give Cloud County a 13-7 lead.
Growing their lead to eight at 18-10 with 10:50 remaining in the first half, it would be the Cloud County defense that would be providing a spark to give the T-Birds some much-needed breathing room as ICC would respond with an 8-2 run to get back within two at 20-18. Things would eventually become tied at 22-22 with 7:07 remaining before halftime with the Pirates beginning to build momentum to eventually take a two-point lead following an offensive rebound and tip-in at the 6:07 mark. Pulling back even at 24-24 on the next offensive possession, Cloud County would see the back-and-forth return with three more lead changes taking place over the next two-plus minutes of game action before starting to build some separation once more with a layup from Graham and buckets from Ja'Ron Briggs Jr. and Corey Sawyer Jr. to go up 33-28 with just over two minutes left before halftime. Growing their lead to 10 at 38-28 and looking to take momentum into the intermission break, CCCC would see Independence have a response by using a three-point play to score five of the final seven points and cut into the lead that would settle at 40-33 heading into the locker room.
Made threes from both teams to open the second half would see the lead for Cloud County hold at seven momentarily as Independence would hit a second straight trey and get a layup to pull within two at 43-41. Three quick points from the T-Birds would get the CCCC lead back to five and eventually six with 13:16 left in the game as both teams would go shot for shot and not allow the other to grab any sort of momentum. On multiple occasions, ICC would cut the Cloud County lead down to a single possession before seeing the T-Birds push their lead back out as a 5-0 spurt off the bench from Andre Gray II would turn a five-point CCCC lead into double-digits at 62-52 with just under nine minutes left.
Adding another five points to the run to go up by 15 and finally gain the separation that they had been looking for all game, Cloud County would be forced to fend off a determined Pirate squad that would respond by getting the deficit back under 10 with just under three minutes remaining. Remaining patient on the offensive end, Cloud County would get a layup from Sawyer Jr. as part of a three-point play to grow their lead to 12 as time would begin to become a factor for ICC. Matching Independence offensively on their next possession, CCCC would see the Pirates manage to score five straight following a turnover by the T-Birds to get within six at 76-70. Following another CCCC turnover, the Pirates would have the ball with just over 40 seconds remaining and a chance to get within a possession before seeing a turnover forced by Briggs Jr. that would all but seal the game as Cloud County would get the ball in the hands of Sawyer Jr. Hitting four free throws in the final 25 seconds, the T-Birds would ensure themselves a victory by holding the Pirates scoreless on each of their final two possessions to earn their third straight victory by double-digits.
Staying efficient on the offensive end, Cloud County would shoot over 50 percent from the floor in both halves to finish 27-of-53 (50.9 percent) from the field and six-of-19 (31.6 percent) from three while connecting on 20-of-28 (71.4 percent) free throw attempts. Outrebounded for just the second time all season, CCCC would overcome a 31-28 deficit on the glass by forcing 23 Pirate turnovers that would lead to 16 points for the T-Birds.
Three starters for Cloud County would reach double-figures led by a game-high 25 from Sawyer Jr. who also provided six assists and five steals. A 17-point, seven-rebound outing would be turned in by Graham while Kearney had 10 points and four steals. Independence had four players in double figures but was able to get just 12 points from the other six players who saw action and were led by a team-high 20 from Johan Nziemi.
A chance to add to their winning streak will come on Saturday, November 26th when CCCC closes out non-conference play at home with a 4 p.m. tip-off against the McPherson College JV team. Taking advantage of the conference bye on Saturday, the game with the Bulldogs will kick off a stretch that will see the T-Birds play four of their next five games at home as part of larger stretch of six home games in an eight-game stretch that began last week.