Late surge pushes T-Birds past Conquistadors

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Battling just to keep pace for better than 14 minutes, the Cloud County Thunderbirds finished strong to post a 74-64 Jayhawk Conference Western Division victory over Dodge City Wednesday night in Bryant Gymnasium.
Cloud County did not have a lead in the game until a basket by Shaun Stewart scored to make it 57-56 with 5:34 remaining.
A layup by EJ Eaves put Dodge City back on top, 58-57.
The T-Birds then poured in 12 straight points to grab control of the game, 69-58.
Dodge City would get no closer than eight points over the final 2:08.
“I really liked us defensively down the stretch. We forced them into tough shots deep in the shot clock, and we rebounded the ball well,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said.
Cloud County moved to 12-14 overall and 4-6 in the Jayhawk West with the win.
Dodge City, 14-12 overall, falls to 3-7 it the Conference.
The game was tied twice at 9-9 and then 43-43, but Cloud County would not lead until the final minutes.
The Conquistadors led 53-45 when the T-Birds used a 12-3 spurt to take its first lead at 57-56 on the basket by Stewart.
Stewart led all scorers with 30 points. The sophomore guard was 11 of 18 from the field, including 6 of 12 from three-point range, and two of two from the free throw line. He also had seven rebounds and five assists.
It was the fifth time in the past seven games that Stewart has scored 30 or more points.
“He is a very good shooter and he can get his own shot late in the shot clock, which is a trait of a good scorer,” Eshbaugh said of Stewart, “Probably most important of all is our kids do a good job of putting him in position to score.”
Eaves' basket gave Dodge City the lead back at 58-57.
Marvin Smith hit two free throws to start the deciding surge by Cloud County.
Smith scored five of the 12 points.
Cloud County led by five, 63-58, when Stewart hit a three with one second on the shot clock to make it 66-58.
“It was  big shot for us to keep some distance. That is what Shaun can do,” Eshbaugh said.
The Conquistadors went over 4:30 without scoring before Jelani Carpenter followed up a missed free throw to make it a 69-60 game with 1:43 remaining.
Carpenter would hit one of two free throws 41 seconds later to cut the T-Birds' lead to 69-61.
Two free throws by Assane Diop and one by Smith put Cloud County on top, 72-61 with under a minute to play.
Oshai Clark buried a three, and the Conquistadors trailed 72-64 with 45 seconds left.
Smith made two free throws, and it was a 74-64 game.
The T-Birds were then able to run out the clock.
“I was really pleased with us. I really liked how we played overall most of the time,” Eshbaugh said, “I thought we had really good guard play. I thought we got better production from our front line.”
Diop came off the bench to score 10 points and pull down eight rebounds for Cloud County.
Smith, who picked up his second foul 55 seconds into the game and sat out most of the first half, also scored 10 points.
“I thought Marvin was huge for us in the second half. I thought he played with great purpose and energy,” Eshbaugh said.
The T-Birds were 25 of 50 from the field, and made  8 of 17 three-point attempts for 47 percent and 16 of 22 free throws for 73 percent.
Eaves paced Dodge City with 22 points.
Clark scored 13 for the Conquistadors, and Carpenter added 10.
Dodge City got out to a 7-2 lead, and Cloud County fought back to tie it at 9-9.
The Conquistadors then scored nine straight points to go up 18-9.
Dodge City, leading just 33-30 at halftime, used a 10-3 run to open the second half to go up 43-33.
Scoring 10 unanswered points, eight by Stewart, Cloud County pulled even at 43-43.
The Conquistadors responded with a 10-2 run to go up 53-45.
Cloud County then rallied in the final minutes to get the win.

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