Cloud County was able to battle back from a 13-point deficit against Central (Neb.) Community College in the first half.
The Raiders nearly did the same to the Thunderbirds in the second half.
Central trimmed Cloud County’s 13-point advantage to just two points, 84-82, with under a minute to play.
The T-Birds knocked down six of eight free throws in a span of 23 seconds to secure a 90-84 victory over Central Tuesday night in Bryant Gymnasium.
“It was definitely a game of runs,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said.
Cloud County fell behind Central 21-9 in the first 6:30 of the game.
“Obviously, they got out of the gate strong. I don’t think we were prepared and got down 10 early,” Eshbaugh said.
Using pressure defense and free throw shooting, the T-Birds rallied to take a 35-32 lead.
The T-Birds connected on 14 of 18 free throws during that stretch, and finished the game 37 of 54 from the line for 69 percent.
The Raiders (2-1) outscored Cloud County 8-2 over the final 3:51 of the first half, and led 40-37 at the break.
Three by three the T-Birds used a 24-10 run to start the second half that gave them a 61-50 lead.
Sophomore guard Shaun Stewart had two three-point shots, a three-point play and made three free throws when fouled on a three-point attempt during that stretch.
Assane Diop, a 6-9 freshman, connected on two threes.
“Between Shaun and Assane we got a couple of guys knocking down shots when they went to that zone,” Eshbaugh said.
Stewart, who was 7 of 20 from the field and 12 of 13 from the line, led all scorers with 28 points. He also had five assists.
Diop hit all four of his three-point attempts in scoring 14 points.
Cloud County would take its biggest lead of the game, 72-59, when freshman guard Lorenzo Dillard made two free throws with 9:28 to play in the game.
Dillard finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
With Cloud County connecting on just one field goal attempt over the next 8:48, Central started to chip away at the deficit.
The Raiders made it an 84-82 game when Tra-Deon Hollins made two free throws with 40 seconds remaining.
“From a game situation standpoint we did not handle the lead well. We might have relaxed a little bit on the defensive end. Offensively, things had gone so well for a stretch and I think we may have tried too hard to make things happen,” Eshbaugh said.
Marvin Smith was fouled nine seconds later, and the sophomore made both free throws to put Cloud County up 86-82.
Central was unable to score, and fouled Kamal Shasi. He went one of two from the line to make it an 87-82 game with 23 seconds to play.
The Raiders’ Calvin Thomas missed a three-point attempt and Lionel Gomis was fouled after grabbing the rebound.
Gomis knocked down two free throws to stretch Cloud County’s lead to 89-82. The 6-9 sophomore had 12 points and 15 rebounds in the game.
Dillard hit one of two free throws after an empty possession by Central, and the T-Birds were up 90-82.
Central got a layup by Hollins with three seconds left to make the final 90-84.
Smith scored 14 points for Cloud County.
The T-Birds were 24 of 58 from the field for 41 percent, and made 7 of 14 three-point attempts.
Thomas led Central with 26 points.
Hollins scored 23 points for the Raiders. Tyron Criswell had 12.
The Raiders shot just 34 percent (29 of 86) from the field and connected on just 6 of 37 three-point attempts for 16 percent.
Cloud County will play in the Southeast Community College Classic this weekend in Beatrice, Neb.
The T-Birds take on Concordia University junior varsity and Midland College junior varsity at 4:00 on Friday and Saturday.