CONCORDIA, Kansas — In 2015-16, the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team won 10 games, finishing the season 10-22 and in the cellar of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.
But thanks to Saturday's 91-74 come-from-behind victory over Colby Community College, this year's T-Birds have their 10th win of the season wrapped up in time for Christmas and are proving to be a shining example of how quickly circumstances can change in junior college basketball.
"Obviously, it's a lot more fun to win than it is not to," jested Cloud County head coach, Chad Eshbaugh. "It's the process. This time last year, we were struggling to win basketball games. But the process of trying to get better every day was the same. This team is doing a great job of winning basketball games and developing themselves."
The 10th win didn't come easy, and wasn't always pretty, for the T-Birds (10-1 overall, 6-1 KJCCC) as they shot just 33 percent in the first half and trailed by as many as 10 points to Colby (4-6 overall, 1-6 KJCCC) at 28-18 with 4:43 remaining in the first half.
Cloud County then strung together an exceptional nine minutes and 36 seconds of basketball between the end of the first half and first five minutes of the second half. The T-Birds stormed back to take a 37-35 lead at the half. Momentum continued to snowball when the teams returned to the court in the second half as Cloud County ended up outscoring the Trojans, 40-13, during that 9:36 span, capped off by a layup from redshirt freshman Jordan McNelly with 15:07 remaining that put the T-Birds up, 58-41.
Colby didn't inch closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
"That was by far our best 10 minutes of the game," Eshbaugh said. "The goal is to put as many of those minutes together as we possibly can over the course of 40 minutes, but the ending of halves and beginning of halves is always critical."
Santos scored 14 of his game-high 23 points in the second half and handed out eight assists from the point guard position, while Lyle poured in 20 points of his own on 6-of-11 shooting.
McNelly caught fire in the second-half surge as well, scoring nine of his 11 points over the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore guard Andrew Ballock was the fourth Cloud County player in double-figures with 12 points, 10 of which came in the first half to keep the T-Birds within shouting distance early on. He dished out seven assists, as well.
Cloud County will look to close out the fall semester strong when it wraps up play with a road trip to Garden City at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and a 4 p.m. home game on Sunday against Butler.
"It's such a tough week because it's Finals Week. The guys' minds, and rightfully so, will be on their classwork, so our practice schedule gets changed," Eshbaugh said. "They're excited about Christmas break and getting to go home and see their families. A lot of these guys haven't seen their families since August. This is really a tough week with everything going on , so we have to find our focus in the classroom and on the court."