T-Birds grind out 84-82 road win over McCook on first day of the Region IX-Region VI Shootout

Cloud County freshman forward Iyen Enaruna had nine points in Friday's 84-82 road win over McCook. (Courtesy photo by Jay Lowell)
Cloud County freshman forward Iyen Enaruna had nine points in Friday's 84-82 road win over McCook. (Courtesy photo by Jay Lowell)

MCCOOK, Nebraska — Facing the first adversity of the long season ahead, the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team passed its initial test with a gritty 84-82 road win over McCook Community College to begin the two-day Region IX-Region VI Shootout.

Cloud County (5-1 overall) entered the evening coming off its first loss of the season; an 85-82 defeat against Des Moines Area Community College last Saturday.

The T-Birds, after owning a 45-43 lead at the break, also found themselves down nine to the Indians (3-3 overall) at the 11:45 mark in the second half but were able to come firing back with a 13-0 run to recapture the lead and control of the game down the stretch.

"I told the guys that of course we'd have liked for the win to be more comfortable and to have done some things a little better, but at the same time it is so important to learn how to fight through and win games like that," said Cloud County head coach Jordan Altman. "We really have two close ones under our belts now. One that didn't turn out in our favor and one that did. We'll be able to point out the differences between those two games to the guys and hopefully they'll realize what we did differently."

Cloud County was then able to maintain its advantage thanks to a 13-of-17 (77 percent) effort at the free-throw line in the second half, and behind timely basketballs from redshirt sophomore Alvin Thompson and freshman forward Edoardo Del Cadia.

Thompson tied his career-high of 24 points for the second straight game, while Del Cadia poured in a career-high 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting and a team-high nine rebounds.

"They (Indians) didn't really have an answer for have an answer for him. He was just physically bigger and stronger than everyone," said Altman of Del Cadia. "We talked with him this week of taking it up a notch. He has been playing really well for us, we just thought there was more in the tank. He took that challenge this week, worked really hard and it showed."

Sophomore guard Jerome Kidd Jr. was the third T-Bird in double-figures with 13 points and freshman forward Iyen Enaruna added nine points to help pace the offense.

In addition to late offensive execution, Cloud County's performance on the defensive end over the final 11 minutes and changed proved instrumental in Friday's victory.

The T-Birds made a switch to a 2-3 zone when it was down nine with 11:45 remaining, taking away McCook's effectiveness of the dribble and opening the door for Cloud County's 13-0 blitz.

"We were struggling to guard one-on-one and that's how McCook was getting a lot of its buckets," Altman said. "We switched to the 2-3 zone and it really changed their aggressiveness and their ability to attack the rim. It definitely helped our run there in the second half and we were able to play two forwards out there because Edoardo, Iyen, Sidy Sissoko and 'Tomi (Adetomi Ayilara) were so willing to bend their knees and get down to guard someone smaller than them."

The T-Birds limited McCook to 38 percent shooting in the second half and forced a total 17 turnovers on the evening while limiting their giveaways to 13.

Cloud County will look to build off Friday's victory when it plays its final game of the Region IX-Region VI shootout at 4 p.m. Saturday against North Platte Community College.

"It'll be the first time that we'll play someone who has our similar size," said Altman of the matchup with North Platte. "It'll be interesting to see us play the way we've been trying to teach our guys to play and not have to change our style because our opponent is smaller than us."