HUTCHINSON, Kansas — Much like the first meeting between the two teams, the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team played well enough in stretches to threaten the undefeated and No. 2 ranked Hutchinson Community College Blue Dragons.
Hutchinson escaped Concordia with an 80-74 win back on Nov. 16. And in Saturday's Round 2 battle between the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference rivals, it was again "self-inflicted" wounds that derailed the T-Birds as their upset bid fell short, 84-70.
Eight different players scored for the T-Birds in the first half, led by sophomore Deon Lyle as he tallied eight of his team-high 17 points. Cloud won the first-half turnover battle, 9-6, attempted 10 more field goals, and played strong on the defensive end of the floor as Hutchinson shot just 29 percent from 3-point range.
But in the second half, Hutchinson set the tone with an 18-5 run spanning the first seven minutes and the T-Birds were unable to find their footing again offensively. They shot 36 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes. To compound problems, Cloud County was 4-of-12 from the free-throw line, 3-of-11 in the second half.
The T-Birds' season average is 73.7 percent.
"You can't win on the road against a great team without making foul shots," said Cloud County head coach, Chad Eshbaugh. "The self-inflicted gunshot wounds will get you just as much as the ones the other guys are firing. You got to make free throws, have to make layups and when you get the opportunities you have to make plays. This was a game where I feel the guys played hard enough, they had the right mindset, but at the end of the day you have to finish plays."
The T-Birds' defense was able to keep them in the game despite the struggles scoring as they were still within eight with 4:46 remaining. But as time whittled away, Cloud County was forced to press and take chances defensively, opening the door for transition baskets the other way for the Blue Dragons, aiding their second-half shooting percentage of 59 percent.
"I thought we were pretty good in stretches defensively in the second half, but eventually you have to make baskets," Eshbaugh said. "We guarded pretty well the entire game. It really came down to, and we talked about it before the game, that our offense needs to be our best defense. We needed to have great offensive possessions to keep a very high-octane team in the half-court. I felt like we could guard them in the half-court. But once the floor breaks (transition), it becomes more difficult for us."
Sophomore point guard Aamahne Santos joined Lyle in double-figures with 14 points and eight rebounds while committing just one turnover. Sophomore guard Rashun Allen and freshman forward Rahjames Robinson, who grabbed eight rebounds in his 15 minutes of action, each added seven points off bench.
Sophomore guard Andrew Ballock was Cloud County's leading rebounder with 10. He added five assists and five steals Saturday, as well.
The T-Birds will be back in action at 8 p.m. on Wednesday when they host Seward County Community College.