CONCORDIA, Kansas — Cloud County Community College head men's basketball coach Jordan Altman emerged from the T-Birds' locker room wearing a zip-up hoodie, his dress shirt and hair soaked from the post-game festivities that followed his team's 83-76 victory over Neosho County Community College on Wednesday.
"I had no idea that (Wednesday) was going to be a shower the coach situation, but I think they'd been planning it. They were going to get that win," Altman said.
Wednesday's victory was meaningful on a number of fronts. The win not only extended the T-Birds' streak to four games to end the regular season, but coupled with a loss by Independence Community College on Wednesday, it also assured Cloud County (16-14 overall, 10-10 KJCCC) a top-4 finish in the KJCCC East and the right to host a Region VI first-round playoff game at 8 p.m. next Wednesday.
The cherry on top was Wednesday's victory also guaranteed the T-Birds a winning season, the first for Altman in his five seasons as a collegiate head coach, just one year removed from a six-win campaign in 2017-18.
"I've always enjoyed rebuilding programs and working with smaller schools, being creative, and making sure we put together a competitive team even if we were not working with the same deck of cards," Altman said. "We played 26 Division I junior colleges and one of the Division II schools we played is nationally ranked, so we played an incredibly difficult schedule. To finish on the positive end, it's a big pride moment for myself, my assistant Todd Johnston and all of the guys."
Cloud County had to earn it Wednesday against a visiting Panthers team (15-14 overall, 8-11 KJCCC) that was trying to keep its hopes of hosting alive, and entered as the third best 3-point shooting team in the KJCCC at 35.1 percent (265-for-754).
"(Neosho) threw some curveballs at us. But I was so proud of how my guys responded doing things that we did not practice," Altman said. "Neosho started slipping and popping on all of its ball-screens. We had planned to hard hedge or trap all of their ball-screens."
Cloud County guards instead fought through or chased the screens, forcing Neosho County guards to turn the corner and take the ball to the basket. The adjustments paid dividends as the Panthers, who have shot over 100 more 3-pointers than any other team in the KJCCC, finished a modest 29-of-73 from the floor (40 percent) and 8-of-29 (28 percent) from deep.
"Most of the time you want to be beat by the 3-pointer, but Neosho leads the league in 3-point attempts and shooting at a pretty good rate. We felt that, if they were going to beat us, they were going to have to do it at the rim," Altman said. "Making that adjustment during the second half just in a timeout made me feel good as a coach that the guys knew how to handle that."
Offensively, Cloud County shot 47 percent (28-of-60) from the field, led by redshirt sophomore Alvin Thompson with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting and a spotless 7-for-7 mark at the free-throw line.
Cloud County's freshmen would also have a big hand in the victory, with guards DJ Sims and Nysir Scott chipping in 11 points and nine points, respectively. Forward Edoardo Del Cadia posted a team-high eight rebounds, while forwards Gabe Pieschl and Iyen Enaruna led the charge, defensively.
With 1:40 remaining and the T-Birds nursing a 78-76 lead, Scott made his most impactful play of the night, jumping through the trees inside to grab an offensive rebound and draw a foul.
Scott, who finished with six rebounds from the point guard position, would make both free throws to make it a two-possession game at 80-76.
"I love Nysir, but he's 5'9 with his shoes on and he's our fourth leading rebounder," Altman said. "He has a great intuition for rebounding and getting up and challenging shots. Of course, having a great athletic skill set helps, but he just really knows that perfect time to jump up and snag a rebound or get a blocked shot. That one late (Wednesday) could have been the play of the game."
Cloud County will now wait and see how the rest of the KJCCC season unfolds Saturday to find out which team it'll host next Wednesday inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium.
The T-Birds are guaranteed no worse than a fourth-place finish in the standings, but could move up to as high as the No. 2 seed if Independence beats second-place Cowley College and Butler loses to Coffeyville to conclude the regular season.