CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team dropped a heartbreaker Saturday evening inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium, falling 94-84 to Cowley College.
It's one that the T-Birds (10-10 overall, 4-7 KJCCC) will feel got away as they led 48-40 at the break and received a career performance from sophomore forward Adetomi Ayilara, who poured in 22 of his game-high 28 points in the first half.
Momentum chahnged at the 16:45 mark of the second half, though, when Cowley College (13-8 overall, 5-6 KJCCC) reached the bonus and made the most of it, shooting 28-of-33 (85 percent) from the free-throw line over the final 20 minutes.
As a team, Cowley entered the evening shoot 66 percent from the free-throw line on the season, but finished 34-of-39 (87 percent) on Saturday from the charity stripe.
"That was a big stat. I told the guys that we left nine on the table ourselves; we missed nine free throws in the second half. But, honestly, the first half was called completely different than the second half," said Cloud County head coach Jordan Altman. "Something changed at the halftime break and it was a completely different game. It took us awhile to adjust to that change and it really messed with our heads the first five minutes of the second half."
Cowley started the second half on a 9-2 run and took its first lead of the half at the 13:50 mark, 57-56. The two teams traded body blows after that as they combined for 10 lead changes and eight ties.
After the Tigers grinded out a five-point lead into the final minute, Cloud County inched back to a one-possession game on two occasions during the final minute; first at 84-81 and at 86-84 on a 3-pointer from sophomore Jerome Kidd Jr. with 41 ticks remaining.
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, who were just 11-of-20 at the free-throw line in the second half, they were unable to get stops and keep the Tigers off the free-throw line in the waning seconds as Cowley built its lead back up to the 94-84 final.
Aside from the discrepancy from the free-throw line in the second half, another key area for Cowley on Saturday was its 49-31 rebound advantage that included 19 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points.
"It's hard to justify and hard to excuse offensive rebounds," Altman said. "People are leaking out, they're trying to get out in transition on offense and we don't have the ball. There's no reason why all five guys shouldn't be going to the defensive glass."
The loss put a damper on what was an extraordinary night for Ayilara, who in addition to his career-high 28 points added five rebounds, two steals and three blocks in his 25 minutes.
"I hope that really gets his confidence going and he takes off like a rocket after tonight's performance," said Altman of 6-foot, 10-inch Australian. "There's not a guy on the team, coach (Todd) Johnson and myself, or anyone who comes watches our practices who've just been waiting for Tomi to have a game like tonight. I really hope he can go and repeat it a couple more times."
Cloud County will look to work its way out of its current January funk when it heads out on the road to take on Allen County Community College (12-6 overall, 4-5 KJCCC) at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Altman said limiting mistakes will be the main focus for the T-Birds as they try to return to their fall semester form that saw the team rattle off three straight conference wins before the holiday break.
"There has to be a light bulb situation where things click for us and we understand how few mistakes we can have and still play a good game," Altman said. "Unfortunately, for about four of the five games in this losing spell, we did it to ourselves. I think Barton is the one game you take out, but the four other games we beat ourselves as much as our opponents beat us."