What the Cloud County Thunderbirds were able to accomplish during a 12-minute stretch in the second half wasn’t enough to overcome what they were unable to get done in the first half and the final eight minutes of the game.
Scoring just 18 points in the first half, the T-Birds outscored number one ranked Hutchinson Community College 27-15 over the first 12:33 of the second half to pull within seven points, 52-45.
Hutchinson, unbeaten on the season, put together an 11-1 run to extend the lead to 63-46, and went on to defeat Cloud County 74-55 in a Jayhawk Conference Western Division game Saturday night in Bryant Gymnasium.
After shooting just 21 percent (5 of 24) from the field, and falling behind 37-18 in the opening half, Cloud County made a run at the Blue Dragons in the second half.
The T-Birds closed the gap to 52-45 when Gerrae Williams scored on a drive with 7:37 to play in the game.
An offensive rebound and a stickback by Kadeem Allen off a missed free throw ignited a decisive spurt by Hutchinson.
“With seven minutes to go we were right where we wanted to be. We had really nice opportunities on three consecutive possessions. We had a couple of point blank looks and a wide open three by a good shooter, and we didn’t make any of them,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said, “Obviously you need to make shots to beat really good teams.”
The Blue Dragons, now 21-0 overall and 7-0 in the Jayhawk Conference Western Division, were leading by just seven points when Nathan Jackson was fouled with 7:23 to play in the game.
Jackson missed the first free throw, and then missed the second, but Allen grabbed the rebound and scored.
Three straight points by AJ Spencer put Hutchinson up 57-45.
Ed Dyson made one of two free throws for Cloud County.
The Blue Dragons got a basket by Alex Davis and four consecutive points by Spencer to push the lead to 63-46, and would not be threatened over the final four minutes.
“When you get down you create such a small margin for error, and that makes it really difficult,” Eshbaugh said.”
The loss drops Cloud County to 12-9 overall and 3-4 in the Conference.
Cloud County fell behind 6-0 to start the game, and struggled offensively throughout the first half.
Hutchinson led by as many as 20 points, 35-15.
A three-point play by Rodrick Robinson made it a 35-18 game.
Allen hit a jumper with one second remaining in the first half, and Cloud County trailed 37-18.
“Defensively, they are good. When you get an opportunity you have to take advantage of it. We did get a good look; we didn’t do a good job of finishing,” Eshbaugh said.
More aggressive on the offensive end to start the second half, the T-Birds rattled off eight straight points, and trailed just 37-26 when Williams drained a three with 16:58 to play.
Cloud County would manage just one field goal and three free throws over the next 5:33 as Hutchinson pushed the lead to 16 points, 47-31.
It was a 50-35 game when the T-Birds got two free throws by Isaiah Anaekwe, a three-point play by Robinson and a steal and layup by Dyson to cut the deficit to eight points, 50-42.
Allen hit a jumper for Hutchinson.
A free throw by Robinson and a basket by Williams made it a 52-45 game with 7:37 on the clock.
The T-Birds went cold from the field once again, managing just a free throw over the next three minutes as the Blue Dragons went on the decisive 11-1 spurt.
“During that span we really had a chance to make it tight, and it moved back up to 11 or 12 points, and it really deflates you and you run out of time,” Eshbaugh said.
Robinson hit four of six field goal attempts and five of seven free throws in scoring 13 points for Cloud County. He also had 11 rebounds.
Dyson and Williams finished with 10 points each.
The T-Birds shot 27 percent (15 of 56 ) from the floor and 66 percent (23 of 35) from the free throw line.
Allen poured in 25 points for Hutchinson.
Spencer scored 23 points and Nunn added 12.
Cloud County plays at Barton County on Wednesday night.
“They are really good. Probably the most talented team in our Conference from an athletic standpoint,” Eshbaugh said of the Cougars.