CONCORDIA, Kansas — Saturday marked 10 days since the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team had played on its home court. That Nov. 16 evening ended in the T-Birds' lone blemish this season: an 80-74 loss to No. 6 ranked Hutchinson Community College.
Fast forward to Saturday, with the T-Birds hosted Coffeyville Community College, and the two games had striking similarities. But one major difference: Cloud County was the team on the plus side of a back-and-forth rollercoaster affair, earning an 84-75 victory over the visiting Ravens.
"I was really proud of the guys. I think this group has quite a bit of character and I thought we really made big plays down the stretch," said Cloud County head coach, Chad Eshbaugh. "It was one of those games where there was a lot of momentum swings. We'd make a run; they'd make a run right back. We're fortunate and blessed to make the last run in that game."
After trailing by six with 3:43 remaining at 73-67, Cloud County (8-1 overall, 4-1 KJCCC) grinded out a 17-2 run to close out the game, spearheaded by sophomore point guard Aamahne Santos.
Santos, who finished with a game-high 20 points, scored seven of Cloud County's next nine points, including a pair of free throws with 1:51 remaining that gave the T-Birds a 77-75 lead.
"Aamahne was huge down the stretch. I thought we got great contributions from a bunch of guys, but Aamahne is the head of the snake," Eshbaugh said. "He's the guy who makes plays for us and runs our team."
His backcourt mate, sophomore shooting guard Deon Lyle, would deliver the dagger as he nailed a 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining to up the lead to five, then calmly sank two free throws with 47 seconds left that made it a three-possession game at 82-75. Lyle finished with 11 points.
The late-game heroics didn't look like they'd be necessary early on as Cloud County jumped all over the Ravens (7-2 overall, 3-2 KJCCC). The T-Birds held their largest lead of the game just 4:25 into the contest at 16-5 following a 3-pointer from sophomore Andrew Ballock, who poured in 12 of his 15 points in the first half.
Coffeyville countered with a 16-5 run over the next five minutes to get back to within one at 22-21 and would claw all the way back to carry a 42-38 lead into the half.
The T-Birds got the crowd and themselves back into things to begin the second half as they went on a 14-2 run to grab a 52-44 lead, capped off on a basket from redshirt freshman Jordan McNelly.
McNelly, who has now scored double-figures in three straight ballgames, was huge for Cloud County in the second half as he scored 13 of his career-high 18 points over the final 20 minutes and finished with a team-high 10 rebounds, giving McNelly his second double-double in as many games this week.
"I think he is getting his feet back underneath him. He sat out last year, so he hadn't played in awhile," said Eshbaugh, referring to McNelly's redshirt season. "In the early season games, it was him learning to play our style. Academically, he is a sophomore but he is still a freshman when it comes to basketball. I think what he's doing right now is really impressive considering this is his first real college basketball experience."
Cloud County will look to keep the momentum rolling when it travels to face No. 13 ranked Neosho County Community College at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.