Offensively challenged for all but a couple of stretches in the second half, the Cloud County Thunderbirds suffered their first Jayhawk Conference Western Division loss, 66-53, to Seward County Saturday night in Bryant Gymnasium.
Cloud County hit just 17 of 58 field goal attempts for 29 percent and were 11 of 23 from the free throw line for 48 percent against a Seward County that is statistically the best defensively in the Conference.
The T-Birds were just 6 of 29 from the floor for 21 percent in the first half, and couldn’t overcome a 27-16 deficit.
Seward County came in allowing just 64.6 points per game.
“Obviously we struggled offensively. We did not do a very good job of finishing some plays when we had some opportunities. Part of that is that Seward is one of the premier defensive teams in the region,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said, “We shot the three pretty well, but we were 9 of 44 from inside the three, and just 11 of 23 from the free throw line, which is open most of the time.”
Cloud County, 11-6 overall, falls to 2-1 in the Conference.
Seward County ups its record to 12-6 overall and 3-1 in the West.
Trailing 4-2, the Saints would go on a 13-2 run to go up 14-6, and would not trail again in the game.
Cloud County was down 17-11 when Gerrae Williams hit a three to cut it to 17-14.
Six straight points gave Seward County a 23-14 cushion.
The T-Birds got a follow by James Williams, but Kaheem Ransom scored inside for the Saints.
Alioune Mboup made two free throws for Cloud County.
Another basket by Ransom gave Seward County a 27-18 lead at halftime.
Ransom led all scorers with 19 points, and also had eight rebounds and five assists.
Cloud County had just one field goal, and scored just four points over the final five minutes of the first half.
“They aren’t a fancy team. They pressure the ball. They get up on you and they force you to play one-on-one,” Eshbaugh said of the Saints.
A three by Jerry Cobb 13 seconds into the second half upped Seward County’s lead to 30-18.
Cloud County then started to find some offensive rhythm.
The T-Birds scored 13 points in less than four minutes, but gave up nine, to make it 39-31.
Connor McDaniel knocked down a pair of three-point shots during that span.
The T-Birds then went ice cold again, going nearly seven minutes without scoring as the Saints tossed in 13 straight points to take a commanding 52-31 lead.
Cloud County wouldn’t go away.
A three by Gerrae Williams, two free throws by Isaiah Anaekwe, a three by Derek Henry and a free throw by Marvin Smith made it a 52-40 game.
The two teams traded baskets, and the Saints got two free throws by Edson Avila to lead 56-42.
A bucket by Smith and another three by McDaniel got Cloud County within nine points, 56-47 with 4:27 to play.
Malcolm Hill-Bey scored for Seward County, but two free throws by Ed Dyson again made it a nine-point game, 58-49.
Seward County then put the game away by scoring eight straight points to go up 66-49.
“We put ourselves in position that it was going to be difficult to come back,” Eshbaugh said, “I was proud of our guys’ effort, but there aren’t many moral victories at this point.”
Gerrae Williams led Cloud County with 14 points. He was 5 of 11 from the field, including three of six from three-point range, and one of two from the line.
McDaniel knocked down three of five three-point attempts in scoring 12 points.
Hill-Bey and Jerry Cobb scored 11 points each for Seward County.
The Saints were 24 of 55 from the floor for 44 percent and 14 of 20 from the line for 70 percent.
Cloud County plays a Conference game at Dodge City on Wednesday night.