COLUMBUS, Neb. ― Cloud County wiped out double-digit deficits in the first half and second half against a red hot Central Community College team, but couldn't rally from three points down in overtime.
The Thunderbirds battled back from 17 points down in the first half and 18 points down in the second to force overtime.
Central, ranked 14th in NJCAA Division II, got up 89-86 in the extra period, and held on to defeat Cloud County 91-87 Monday night.
The Raiders have reeled off six consecutive wins after suffering its lone loss to Cloud County, 90-84, back on Nov. 5.
Central (8-1) had posted consecutive wins over eight-ranked Iowa Western Community College and fourth-ranked Hutchinson Community College heading into the rematch with the T-Birds.
“They have a very nice team,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said.
Cloud County led 13-9 in the first half, but Central downed five three-point baskets during an 18-0 run to go up 27-13.
With the T-Birds hitting just 8 of 29 field goal attempts for 28 percent and 7 of 13 free throws for 54 percent, the Raiders would stretch the lead to 17 points.
"We got the ball in pretty good places on the floor. We were under 25 percent in the lane," Eshbaugh said, "We did get it to some places we wanted to against their zone, but didn't do a good job of finishing and didn't make foul shots."
Cloud County (5-4) outscored Central 8-1 down the stretch in that first half to get within eight points, 35-27.
The T-Birds opened the second half with a 13-5 spurt to pull even at 40-40.
Central then pulled away to an 18-point cushion, 68-50, with under eight minutes to play.
Led by guards Shaun Stewart and Lorenzo Dillard, the T-Birds rallied once again with a 27-9 surge to tie the game at 77-77 when Stewart made a layup with 21 seconds remaining in regulation.
Stewart led all scorers with 34 points. He was 10 of 18 from the field, including six of 11 from three-point range, and 8 of 10 from the free throw line.
Dillard finished with 26 points. He hit 8 of 22 field goal attempts and seven of eight free throws.
"Lorenzo and Shaun made some big shots. We forced some turnovers," Eshbaugh said.
Central had an opportunity to win the game, but a three-point attempt by David Plain didn't drop, and the game went to overtime.
"We were able to force them into a tough shot, and we got a defensive rebound," Eshbaugh said.
Cloud County had an 86-84 lead with 1:20 to play in overtime, and had a chance to stretch it to four points, but couldn't connect on a pair of free throws.
Tyron Criswell hit a three to give Central the lead back at 87-86.
The T-Birds were unable to score, and the Raiders got a bucket to make it 89-86.
Stewart was unable to knock down a three-point attempt to tie the game, and Central made two free throws to make the final margin four points.
"I was very proud of their competitive spirit," Eshbaugh said, "Like I told them after the game, we put ourselves in a position to win a game on the road when all signs pointed to that not being a real possibility. I was really proud of their character. We make a couple of free throws, and I am proud of their character and we are getting on the bus happy going home with a victory. I am not much for moral victories, but I did see some real fight in these guys."
Sophomore Lionel Gomis pulled down 18 rebounds for Cloud County.
The T-Birds finished 28 of 69 from the floor for 41 percent and 19 of 32 from the line for 59 percent. They hit 12 of 26 three-point attempts for 46 percent.
Criswell paced Central with 28 points.
Calvin Thomas scored 16 points for the Raiders. Deandre Collins had 14 points. Plain and Tra-Deon Hollins added 10 points each.
Central was 32 of 75 from the field for 43 percent and 14 of 21 from the line for 67 percent.
Cloud County travels to Scottsbluff, Neb. to play in a classic hosted by Western Nebraska Community College.
The T-Birds play Western Nebraska on Friday and Eastern Wyoming College on Saturday.