HUTCHINSON, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team had its 2017-18 season come to an end Thursday during the first round of the Region VI Tournament, losing a tight 93-83 road contest against No. 14 ranked Hutchinson Community College.
Cloud County (6-24 overall, 4-22 KJCCC), which split the regular season series against the Blue Dragons (26-5 overall, 21-5 KJCCC), stayed toe-to-toe with Hutchinson throughout, but were unable to mount a long enough run to overtake the defending national champions.
"We played extremely hard, extremely tough and were right with them for 40 minutes," said Cloud County head coach, Jordan Altman. "Quite honestly, the game came down to 47 free throws (for Hutchinson) versus 17 free throws (for Cloud County)."
Hutchinson was able to cash in on its 47 chances at the free-throw line, finishing 34-of-47 (72 percent), while the T-Birds finished the night at 13-of-17 (77 percent).
Each team made a concerted effort to get to the basket Thursday, finishing deadlocked at 40-40 for points in the paint.
The frequent visits to the charity stripe for Hutchinson made a comeback increasingly more difficult for Cloud County, which trailed just 41-36 at the half and were within six of the Blue Dragons as late as 4:02 remaining on a jumper by freshman Brayden Day.
"I felt like we attacked the rim as much as Hutchinson did," Altman said. "In the final minutes, we just couldn't get the stops or hit the shots we needed."
Defensively, Cloud County did a solid job bottling up Hutchinson's star guard, J.J. Rhymers, as he was limited to a 5-for-11 shooting performance, but finished 12-of-16 at the free-throw line to pace all players with 22 points.
The T-Birds received a balanced attack, offensively, on Thursday with 11 different players making the scoresheet, led by 12 points by freshman guard JaVary Christmas.
"With the circumstance of the game, everyone wanted to play their best and contribute," Altman said. "We talked a lot heading into the game that we needed to be aggressive and the guys really listened."
While his first season at the helm will not end the way Altman and the T-Birds wanted, he said he is proud of the effort and growth made by a Cloud County team that returned just four players — Burt Jr., Finley, Lee and Rahjames Robinson — that saw court time as freshmen.
"We were able to accomplish some of our goals and I'm very proud of the fact that we finished with the same squad we started with," Altman said. "We learned and grew, just unfortunately that process was just a little too slow. Our freshmen will come back as some of the most experience freshmen in the conference, and we were able to send our sophomores off with a lot of experience and personal growth."