T-Birds topple Trojans, earn home playoff game

COLBY — Coming off a home loss to Pratt back on Feb. 10, the Cloud County Thunderbirds were sitting at 3-6 and in the bottom half of the Jayhawk Conference Western Division.
Win by win the T-Birds climbed up the Conference standings.
Cloud County finished off the regular season fifth consecutive victory, 87-80 over Colby Community College Wednesday night, to move into a four-way tie for third place in the Jayhawk West with Pratt, Garden City and Barton.
 Based on the tiebreaker, the T-Birds (16-14) received the number four seed out of the West, and will host Northwest Kansas Technical College (18-12) in the first round of the Region 6 Tournament at 8:00 Saturday night.
“I am very proud of them because they demonstrated perseverance. Life is adversity, and it is going to hit you all of the time,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said, “I am most proud of this team because at one point we were 3-6 in the league and every day they worked hard and tried to get better. They earned the right to play a home game. At this point, it is win or go home, and I like how we are playing right now.”
Pratt received the number three seed out of the West. Garden City was fifth and Barton was sixth.
The winner of the game between Cloud County and Northwest Kansas Tech will play the winner of the game between Colby (9-21) and Independence (16-10) in the Region 6 quarterfinals next Thursday at Koch Arena in Wichita.
Cloud County and Colby were tied four times in the first 7:30.
The game was knotted at 8-8 when the T-Birds got a free throw by Lorenzo Dillard and back to back layups by Shaun Stewart and Marvin Smith to go up 13-8.
Colby battled back to tie the game at 20-20 on a baseline jumper by Joey Meyer with 9:00 remaining in the first half.
Two free throws by Creighton Brinker and consecutive three-point shots by Dillard and Assane Diop put Cloud County on top to stay, 28-20.
Brinker came off the bench to score 13 points and pull down eight rebounds.
“Creighton has been playing really well. He has had a very good freshman year. He has really come on in the last five games and given us some good depth on the front line,” Eshbaugh said.
Cloud County was leading 30-24 when Stewart scored five straight points to make it a 35-24 game.
Stewart finished with 17 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Colby closed the gap to 38-30 when Brinker hit a three to again make it an 11-point game, 41-30.
Two free throws by Roman Johnson with under a second on the clock left the Trojans trailing 41-32 at halftime.
Cloud County opened the second half with a 15-6 run to extend the lead to 56-38.
“The last five minutes of the first half and first five to seven minutes of the second half we were really good. We were able to push the lead out to a substantial margin,” Eshbaugh said.
Meyer scored inside for Colby, but the T-Birds responded with a free throw by Brinker, a three-point play by Stewart and a basket by Smith to take their biggest lead of the game, 62-40.
Smith scored 14 points for the T-Birds.
Trailing 75-58, the Trojans made one final run at the T-Birds.
Colby knocked down three three-point shots, two by Terry Starks, during a 19-8 spurt that closed the gap to 83-77 when Jeremiah Ingram hit a trey with 58 seconds to play in the game.
“They shot the ball really well from the free throw line and the from the three-point line in the second half,” Eshbaugh said.
Colby was 22 of 25 from the free throw line for 88 percent and made 8 of 17 three-point attempts for 47 percent.
Cloud County made four of eight free throws over the final 42 seconds to hold off the Trojans.
“We never could put them away, and that is to Colby's credit, but we were never in a position of being threatened to give up the lead,” Eshbaugh said.
Dillard led Cloud County with 21 points. He also had four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Branden Williams hit four of five three-point attempts in scoring 23 points for Colby.
Ingram made 10 of 12 free throws, and finished with 17 points.
Starks scored 14 points for the Trojans, and Johnson added 11 points.

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