CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team had its hands in the cookie jar Wednesday night when it hosted Cowley, hoping it could steal a win on its home floor during a night where few things went the T-Birds' way for 35 minutes.
Key stops and crucial baskets — none bigger than the go-ahead 3-pointer with 15.1 seconds left from sophomore Andrew Ballock — helped Cloud County do just that as it rallied from a 14-point deficit to snag an 81-78 victory over the visiting Tigers.
"I thought Cowley outplayed us for 35 minutes," said Cloud County head coach, Chad Eshbaugh. "It feels good to win. But like I told the guys after the game; we did steal it. It was definitely a game where we had to scrape to get back in it and found a way to win it at the end. But that's one thing good teams do. They sometimes win basketball games they shouldn't."
Cloud trailed 48-37 at the half, and was down 53-39 with 17:15 remaining in large part to the sizzling shooting by Cowley (14-14 overall, 11-13 KJCCC). The Tigers shot 51 percent from the floor and had eight offensive rebounds through the first 20 minutes.
The T-Birds' comeback trail began with their defensive effort as they limited Cowley to just 33 percent shooting in the second half and a 1-of-6 mark from the 3-point line for a team that leads the KJCCC in made 3-point field goals.
"Cowley is hard to guard. Coach DeSalme does a great job with his guys. Part of the (second half shooting percentage) was them missing shots, but I do think we guarded a lot better," Eshbaugh said.
The Tigers held an eight-point advantage with 1:35 remaining when Cloud County freshman guard Solomon Finley made the play that changed momentum as he nailed a corner 3-pointer and drew the foul. Finley cashed in the free throw for a four-point play that brought the crowd and the T-Birds back to life, down just 78-74.
"That's a huge shot," Eshbaugh said. "Solomon is a great offensive player and has done really good things for us lately."
Finley made another pair of free throws with a minute left that got Cloud within two at 78-76, setting the stage for Ballock's go-ahead 3-pointer the ensuing T-Birds' possession.
Sophomore guard Deon Lyle, who finished with 11 points, sealed the win as he forced a Cowley turnover with four seconds remaining, drew a foul, and made a pair of free throws on the other end to put the bow on the 81-78 final.
Redshirt freshman Jordan McNelly, a transfer from Cowley, finished with a team-high 17 points for the T-Birds and six rebounds. Sophomore guards Aamahne Santos and Rashun Allen joined McNelly and Lyle in double-figures with 14 points and 11 points, respectively.
Finley and Ballock each chipped in nine points, while Ballock also added six rebounds and six assists.
With the win, the T-Birds guaranteed themselves a first-round home game in the Region VI Tournament, set to begin next Thursday. Cloud County is currently fourth place in the KJCCC standings with two regular season games remaining, starting with a 4 p.m. road contest against Allen County on Saturday.