CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College faithful, decked out in ugly sweaters, elf ears and Santa hats, flooded center court when the final buzzer sounded Wednesday inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium.
It was a festive evening in Concordia before students head off for the holiday break, and the Cloud County men's basketball team let fans unwrap a present early as, for the second straight year, the hometown T-Birds upended No. 7 Hutchinson Community College on Erkenbrack Court, 72-64.
Cloud County (9-5 overall, 3-2 KJCCC), which has now won three straight games, also accomplished the feat last season with an 82-79 overtime victory over the Blue Dragons on Nov. 15, 2017 when Hutchinson was the defending national champions and No. 1 ranked team in the country.
"We told the guys that this (game) might be a little different than last year. It was going to come down to 'Jim versus Joe' and not the 'X's and O's'" said Cloud County head coach, Jordan Altman. "Our Jim's showed up and beat their Joe's tonight. It wasn't a whole lot of schematics."
Cloud County made life difficult for the Blue Dragons (12-2 overall, 3-2 KJCCC) on offense, holding them to 30 points below their season scoring average — Hutchinson came in to the contest leading the KJCCC in scoring at over 94 points per game — and to 30 percent shooting (18-of-60) for the game.
Sophomore forward Sidy Sissoko helped anchor the interior, limiting Hutchins's seven-foot forward Fred Odihiambo to 1-of-4 shooting in 14 minutes, and fellow sophomore Adetomi Ayilara tallied a career-high six blocks.
The T-Birds then finished off defensive possessions with rebounds, posting a 56-42 advantage on the glass.
Freshman forward Edoardo Del Cadia led the charge with a banner night, finishing with a career-high 16 rebounds and 20 points in his 18 minutes off the bench.
Del Cadia was especially dominant down the stretch as he scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and fittingly delivered the dagger; a corner 3-pointer with 12 seconds left that pushed Cloud County's lead to three possessions at 72-64.
"That's Edoardo for you when his confidence is going," Altman said. "He's one of the best junior college players in the country. He has every chance to play at the highest level of basketball and he showed that (Wednesday)."
He was joined in double-figures by redshirt sophomore Alvin Thompson, the reigning KJCCC Division I Player of the Week, with 23 points and seven rebounds and redshirt freshman Nysir Scott with 12 points.
Scott scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half and Thompson drilled a buzzer-beater from 25 feet to give the T-Birds a 34-31 lead heading into the break.
The T-Birds, despite a tough night shooting at 32 percent (22-of-68), would trail just twice over the final 20 minutes, the latest being at 51-50 with 7:55 remaining. They'd take the lead for good when Scott drove right, spun to the middle and willed the go-ahead layup in with 40 seconds remaining to make it 66-64.
Altman said the T-Birds, who played all 10 players at least 12 minutes Wednesday and had nine different scorers, remained unphased and unrattled by the task of closing out their former KJCCC West rival. They finished a staggering 23-of-27 from the free-throw line, 15-of-18 (83 percent) in the second half.
"For me, it was our attitude in the huddle. We had a couple late timeouts there and the guys were still excited, didn't have any doubts and didn't question themselves at all," said Altman of the second-half perseverance. "I felt a couple times I didn't say enough in the timeouts. It was just 'Get back out there and finish this game.' Those guys deserve all the credit and they believed in themselves."
Cloud County will get to enjoy Wednesday's win for an extended period as the team heads off for Christmas break at the end of this week before resuming KJCCC action at 5 p.m. Saturday, January 5 on the road against Northwest Kansas Technical College.
Altman said the excitement level and expectations will be high when the guys return to campus and the calendar flips to January.
"I think the guys understand why I was so upset after the Garden City loss (on Nov. 28) now. This win shows our potential," Altman said. "Much like last year (after beating Hutchinson), we have a standard to hold them to now."