CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team fought and clawed in Wednesday's 99-85 loss to Coffeyville, getting off the mat from a disappointing first half to challenge the No. 5 ranked Red Ravens late into the evening.
Unfortunately for the T-Birds (10-9 overall, 4-6 KJCCC), the recent trend of slow starts to begin the spring semester continued Wednesday, putting them behind the 8-ball of a potential upset bid.
"You can always say 'What if?' For about the fifth game in a row, we went into the locker rooms saying, 'What if we didn't go down double-digits to start the game?' It's been such a point of emphasis for us that I'm kind of at a loss right now," said Cloud County head coach, Jordan Altman. "We've started so slow and put ourselves in a hole five straight games. And to give the guys credit, in all five games they have fought back…But the amount of effort it takes to fight back, you have absolutely no cushion for mistakes or missed shots, you're fighting an uphill battle."
Cloud County spotted Coffeyville (18-2 overall, 9-1 KJCCC) a 17-3 advantage through the game's first five minutes, starting 1-for-8 from the field. Coffeyville rode the early momentum to a 55-39 lead at the half, outshooting the T-Birds 53 percent (20-of-38) to 32 percent (11-of-34).
The T-Birds would trail by as many as 18 at the 19:27 mark of the second half before making its run back at the defending Region VI champions as they limited Coffeyville to just 13 points through the first 10 minutes of the second half, going on a 25-13 blitz that close the gap to 68-64 at the second-half media timeout.
"Those types of runs are what help you win ballgames. You think 'If we were down five at half, now we're up and pulling away from them at that point,'" Altman said. "But instead a 25-13 run only got us back to single-digits. As much as we accomplished, and a lot of guys did a lot of great things (Wednesday) in the second half, you really have to point to those first five minutes and say, 'What if?"
Redshirt sophomore guard Alvin Thompson was one of six Cloud County players in double-figures, also joined by redshirt freshman Nysir Scott with 12 points and freshman Edoardo Del Cadia with 11 points.
Freshman forward Iyen Enaruna contributed eight points and a team-high 10 rebounds off the bench, but Altman pointed to the trio of Jerome Kidd Jr. (14 points), Jacob Shields (12 points) and DJ Sims (12 points) who played pivotal roles in the comeback.
Sims' put-back with 10:37 remaining got the T-Birds all the way back within two points at 66-64; the closest Cloud County would inch to the Red Ravens.
"Jerome and DJ getting going can be a big factor if we have those two guys coming off the bench and scoring," Altman said. "And if there is anything keeping me smiling right now, it's Jacob Shields and his comeback story here. Two weeks ago, he was about as frustrated as any player I've ever coached and didn't feel like anything was going right for him (coming back from knee surgery). Now he's back on track and really becoming a big part of our team down the stretch."
Cloud County was able to stay within three possessions of Coffeyville as late as the 4:47 mark, trailing 83-76, but the Red Ravens closed the game on a 16-9 run to keep the T-Birds at bay.
The Red Ravens capitalized on a night that saw 58 foul calls and 77 free-throw attempts between the two teams, finishing 33-of-40 at the charity stripe (83 percent) and posting a 22-of-27 mark (82 percent) in the second half.
"Oh, it hurt it us," Altman said of the pace of the game. "There was a long discussion after the game about the tempo and how it was affected by the way fouls were called tonight…It was not very helpful to creating a flow or an atmosphere to where either team could really get going."
The T-Birds will look to solve their first-half struggles when they continue a mini two-game homestand against Cowley College at 8 p.m. Saturday inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium.