Surging Thunderbirds slip past Saints, 69-68

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 Cloud County continued its late season surge by squeezing past Jayhawk Conference Western Division leader Seward County.
Freshman Lorenzo Dillard hit one of two free throws with 1.8 seconds on the clock to give the Thunderbirds a 69-68 victory over the Saints Saturday night in Bryant Gymnasium.
Cloud County has now rattled off four consecutive wins to improve to 15-14 overall and 7-6 in the Jayhawk West.
The T-Birds’ have posted back to back wins over Hutchinson, second in the Conference, and Seward County, which has already wrapped up the West title.
Cloud County is tied with Garden City for fifth place in the Conference.
Barton County and Pratt, at 7-5, are one game ahead of the T-Birds.
The top four teams host a first-round game in the Region 6 playoffs.
Cloud County finishes off the regular season at Colby, winless in the Jayhawk West, on Wednesday night.
“I feel we are playing as good as we have all year right now, which is a good time to do it,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said.
It was a game that had all the makings of one that would go down to the final seconds, and it did.
There were 19 lead changes and 14 ties in a physical contest, and neither team led by more than seven points.
The two teams combined to shoot 75 free throws, and it came down to one made by Dillard.
“I don't think I have ever been involved in a game with less separation than that one,” Eshbaugh said, “I think both teams really had attacking guards. Neither team shoots a lot of jump shots. The way the game was played there was going to be a lot of fouls called.”
Cloud County trailed 64-62 when Shaun Stewart scored four straight points to put the T-Birds up 66-64 with 3:14 to play.
Seward County, 20-9 overall and 10-3 in the Conference, got a three-point play by Brian Bridgeforth and a free throw by Quentin Purtue to go up 68-66 with 2:03 on the clock.
Marvin Smith scored inside to pull the T-Birds even with the Saints at 68-68.
The game was still tied when Stewart missed a three-point attempt with 35 seconds left.
Seward County had the ball with an opportunity to take a final shot.
The Saints missed a jump shot and a tip try, and the ball ended up the hands of Dillard, who raced up the floor with time running out.
Dillard went up for a layup, was fouled, and made the shot as the time expired.
The officials ruled that Dillard was fouled on the floor, and put 1.8 seconds back on the clock.
“The official said that he called it on the floor, which under the new rules when you pick up the basketball you get continuation,” Eshbaugh said.
Dillard, who finished 8 of 14 from the line in scoring 18 points, made the first free throw to give Cloud County the 69-68 lead. He missed the second, and Seward County rebounded and called timeout with 1.1 seconds to play.
The Saints attempted a long inbounds pass that was knocked away as time ran out.
“Lorenzo did a great job of stepping up and making his first free throw. Fortunately we were able to get out of there with a win.”
Stewart led Cloud County with 22 points and seven rebounds. He made all 10 of his free throw attempts.
Smith finished with 10 points.
Cloud County shot just 37 percent (19 of 52) from the floor and made 27 of 39 free throws for 69 percent.
Seward County was led by Secean Johnson with 17 points.
Malcolm Hill-Bey scored 14 points for the Saints, and Bridgeforth added 11points.
There were 12 lead changes in the first half, and neither team led by more than three points.
Cloud County was up 31-28 when Seward County got a basket by Bridgeforth and a long three by Tyreke Sharp as time ran out to grab a 33-31 lead.
A 12-3 run to start the second half gave the T-Birds a 43-36 advantage.
Seward County scored eight straight points to go back up 44-43.
A free throw by Dillard, a three by Clint Glaser and two free throws by Derek Henry gave Cloud County the lead back at 49-44.
The T-Birds would hold the lead until a basket by Hill-Bey put the Saints up 64-62.
That set up a back and forth final three minutes, and the T-Birds were able to escape with the win.
Cloud County will take on a Colby team that is winless in the Conference.
“What we tell these guys is we have to go to Colby and win because that is all we control,” Eshbaugh said, “We have struggled at Colby in the past. They are kind of the hard luck team in the league.”

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