CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team dropped a heartbreaker Saturday night against Neosho County Community College, falling 78-70 to conclude the Homecoming double-header.
Free throws and turnovers played a key role in the T-Birds' (15-8 overall, 11-8 KJCCC) defeat as they committed 19 giveaways and were 8-of-19 (42 percent) from the free-throw line, while the Panthers (8-15 overall, 5-14 KJCCC) were 20-of-26 (77 percent).
Entering Saturday's game, Cloud County was shooting 73.3 percent from the free-throw line versus 61.4 percent for Neosho County.
"We also missed four front-ends of 1-and-1, so that's the equivalent of 8-for-23 at the free-throw line. That's a lot of points to leave off the board in a Kansas Jayhawk Conference game," said Cloud County head coach, Chad Eshbaugh. "We turned the ball over a lot and missed free throws. It's very difficult to win when you do those two things."
Despite the self-inflicted wounds, the T-Birds were still very much in Saturday's ball game, rallying from down by as many as 10 with 17:41 remaining to take a 62-61 lead with 3:49 left on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Deon Lyle.
Lyle was one of four Cloud County players in double-figures with 15 points.
Cloud County and Neosho were deadlocked at 64-64 with 1:59 remaining following a mid-range jumper by sophomore Andrew Ballock, and within two with 51 ticks remaining at 68-66 on a basket from sophomore Aamahne Santos, who finished with a team-high 16 points and seven assists.
But the T-Birds were called for a technical following Santos' basket, resulting in a pair of Panthers' free throws that pushed their lead back up to a two-possession game at 70-66.
Joining Santos and Lyle in double-figures for the T-Birds were redshirt freshman Jordan McNelly with 11 points and freshman guard Solomon Finley, who followed up his strong 11-point game on Wednesday against Coffeyville with a career-high 14 points on Saturday.
"Solomon can score. That's never been a problem," Eshbaugh said. "With him, it's always been if we can get the complete game from him on both ends of the floor. He's a very gifted young man and we definitely needed every one of the shots he did hit (Saturday)."
Cloud County is currently in a four-way tie for fourth place in the KJCCC standings and just three games out of second with seven conference games remaining. The T-Birds will look to right the ship at 8 p.m. on Wednesday when they travel to play Colby Community College (10-13 overall, 6-13 KJCCC).
"This one hurts. Losing on our home floor is something you can't do unless you're going to be really tuned in on getting it back on the road," Eshbaugh said. "Colby is playing its best basketball of the season and it is a tough place to play. We need to buckle down and see if we can find a way to get one back."