CONCORDIA - Held to just six points over the final nine minutes of the game, the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team would see a six-point second-half lead slip away as part of a 68-56 home loss to Northeast Community College in Arley Bryant Gymnasium on Saturday.
Losing just their second non-conference game of the year, the T-Birds are now 5-4 overall while the Hawks bounce back from a loss Tuesday evening to improve to 3-5 overall.
Hampered by a slow start, CCCC would see a 4-2 lead turn into a 10-4 deficit as Northeast would come out and manage to use 6-0 spurt as part of a 10-3 run to double up Cloud County 14-7 five minutes into the game. After using a 30-second timeout to try and stop the momentum that was clearly heading in the direction of NECC, the T-Birds would score nine of the next 10 points while holding Northeast without a field goal for nearly nine minutes of game time to reclaim the lead following a monstrous Malang Athian dunk off an assist from Corey Sawyer Jr. The next three possessions would see three lead changes as NECC would manage to go up 20-19 on a three with 5:45 left in the first half as neither team would be able to hold a lead of more than three in the final minutes of the opening period.
Trailing by three with just over three minutes remaining, Cloud County would get a response from DeMarco Clayton with a triple to tie things up at 22-22 and again at 24-24 as Athian would answer a Northeast layup with a layup of his own. The back and forth would continue up until the final buzzer to mark halftime as Savian Edwards would give CCCC a one-point lead with a trey before seeing NECC have an answer with a three of their own. Cloud County would then force a turnover on an inbounds play and get a layup from Nate Duckworth to tie things with eight seconds left, but see the Hawks drive the length of the court and get a layup as time expired to go up 31-29 at the half.
Unable to avoid another slow start to open the second half, CCCC would be held scoreless for the first five-plus minutes of the second period which would allow Northeast to go up eight at 37-29. Breaking the drought would be Joe Kearney with a three to get back within five at 37-32 before hitting a second-straight three following a Hawk triple to keep things at a five-point deficit. Trailing by seven, Cloud County would score 14 of the next 16 with Athian again capping off a run with a dunk to put CCCC up 50-44 with nine minutes left.
The tide would turn on the next offensive possession for Northeast as Edwards would foul Saheed Sanusi shooting a three as the freshman would hit all three free throws to spark a 20-0 run that would see 11 of the 20 points come from the free-throw line. Facing their largest deficit of the game at 64-50 with 1:13 remaining, Cloud County would manage to score six of the next seven points to get back within single-digits at 65-56, but with only 39 seconds remaining it would be too little too late as the Hawks would three of their final four free throws and keep the T-Birds off the board the rest of the way to pull out the 12-point win.
After going 11-for-22 (50.0 percent) from the field in the opening 20 minutes of play, the T-Birds would finish the game by going 11-of-34 (32.4 percent) from the floor while shooting just two second-half free throws to finish the game with a 39.3 percent (22-for-56) shooting percentage. Attempting their second-most three-point attempts of the year (31), CCCC would hit on seven treys for a 22.6 percent conversion rate while going five-for-nine (55.6 percent) from the charity stripe. Outrebounding Northeast 39-36, Cloud County would be hurt by a 21-11 deficit in points off turnovers as the T-Birds would commit 19 turnovers while forcing only 16 and also be held to just eight second-chance points.
Scoring a team-high 13 points in 38 minutes of action would be Kearney who also had six blocks and two steals. Duckworth would add 11 points and five assists while Athian found his way into double-figures with 11 points while no other T-Bird would score more than eight in the contest. NECC was led by a game-high 28 points from Sanusi who went 14-for-16 from the free-throw line and scored 19 points in the second half.
Cloud County is scheduled to play at Seward County Community College to resume Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference play at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The Saints had their Saturday contest at Dodge City postponed due to health and safety protocols that are set by the KJCCC for all teams this season.