CONCORDIA, Kansas — Wednesday's season opener was far from a layup for the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team when it hosted Central Community College-Columbus to tip off the 2017-18 season.
The visiting Raiders, coming off a solid 18-14 mark a year ago, hit critical shots at critical times and benefited from a tough shooting night by the T-Birds to steal a 71-65 victory.
Cloud County (0-1 overall) was limited to 35 percent shooting for the game (27-for-78) and 17 percent (4-for-24) from the 3-point line, putting the T-Birds behind the 8-ball much of the evening.
"I appreciated that the guys didn't give up playing from behind most of the night. There were a couple of opportunities for them to pull away from us, but the guys stuck in there and kept fighting. I definitely appreciated that," said Cloud County head coach, Jordan Altman. "We just struggled to make shots. And there were obviously things, defensively, that we could have done better. But we had 78 shots and scored 65 points. That's (the game) right there."
Central Community College (1-0 overall), courtesy of 46 percent shooting from the field, held a 31-28 lead at the half and built its lead up to as many as 10 at 60-50 with 9:36 remaining.
The T-Birds responded with a 9-2 blitz over the next 5:30, capped off by a tip-in from redshirt freshman, Alvin Thompson.
Thompson, playing in his first live game action in over a year, poured in a game-high 18 on 7-for-16 shooting. He also tied for the team high with eight rebounds, while adding three assists, three steals and a blocked shot with just one turnover in 29 minutes.
"I can't stress it enough, he is every coach's dream," said Altman when asked about Thompson. "He goes 100 miles per hour all the time, everything out of his mouth is 'yes, sir,' and he's so much fun to work with and so much fun to watch. He's the one right now I just sit back and watch because he's so fun and it rubs off on some of the teammates, we may have a pretty good shot at it here."
Thompson assisted on a Ramion Burt Jr. dunk with 2:34 remaining to get the T-Birds as close as two points at 65-63, but were limited to two points the rest of the way.
While Altman is confident the T-Birds' offensive execution will improve, he said he was disappointed that the team settled for 24 3-pointers while registering just 11 free-throw attempts on the night.
"I think the real frustrating part was that they didn't recognize it," said Altman, referring to the struggles behind the 3-point line on Wednesday. "You can take out the couple we threw up at the end and we were still 4-for-20 and we still kept taking the threes. Through all the preseason action, this was the first time we failed to get into the bonus in either half."
Sophomore guard Shawn Lee had a solid debut, as well, with four steals, three assists, six rebounds and four points.
The T-Birds will look to bounce back and pick up their first win of the season at 7 p.m. on Saturday against Kansas Wesleyan JV as they continue a seven-game home stand to begin the year.
"It's always good for a wake-up call like this early in the season. Just a reminder," Altman said. "We struggled early on in the preseason and then really started to come together the last 3-4 scrimmages. We were really playing well. I think the guys came in and just expected it to be there (Wednesday). We need to understand that we're not the type of team that can show up and dominate a game. We've got to do the little things to give ourselves a chance."