Thunderbirds suffer road loss to Saints, 82-74

LIBERAL — The road continues to be unkind to the Cloud County Thunderbirds.
Cloud County fell to 0-3 in Jayhawk Conference Western Division road games with an 82-74 loss to Seward County Wednesday night.
The T-Birds fell behind the Saints by 17 points, 62-45, with just over seven minutes to play.
Led by guards Lorenzo Dillard and Shaun Stewart, the T-Birds battled back to within six points, but couldn't chase down the Saints.
Dillard scored 12 points during the final push, and Stewart chipped in eight points.
Cloud County drops to 10-12 overall and 2-4 in the Jayhawk West.
“The road is tough in any good conference, and the Jayhawk is not any different,” Cloud County coach Chad Eshbaugh said, “It is one of those games you have to get off to a good start because of a number of circumstances.”
Seward County 15-7 overall, improves to 5-1 in the Conference, and is tied for first place with Hutchinson.
The Saints jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the game, and would never trail.
Cloud County would close to within a point, 10-9, on a basket by Jeremiah Brooks.
Niem Stevenson knocked down a three-point shot for Seward County.
A bucket by Marvin Smith left the T-Birds trailing 13-11.
Seward County got threes by Stevenson and Secean Johnson during a 10-0 spurt that made it a 23-11 game.
“It seemed like for a four or five minute stretch we were stuck on 11. We missed some shots and had some turnovers,” Eshbaugh said.
The Saints would stretch the lead to 16 points, 37-21.
“A lot of their damage done early was on the offensive boards, which was probably the difference in the game. Their ability to get second shots and our inability to do the same,” Eshbaugh said.
Dillard, who led all scorers with 24 points, buried a three in the final seconds of the first half, and Cloud County trailed 37-24. He was 7 of 10 from the field and 7 of 10 from the free throw line.
A three by Quentin Purtue early in the second half gave Seward County a 40-24 cushion.
An 11-4 run pulled Cloud County within nine points, 44-35 when Stewart made two free throws.
Stewart, who had scored 70 points in his previous two games, was limited to two points in the first half, but scored 19 in the second half to finish with 21. He hit 6 of 15 field goal attempts and all eight of his free throws.
Getting eight points from Johnson, the Saints would stretch the lead to 62-45 with just under 7:30 to play.
Cloud County then started to chip away at the deficit.
It was a 74-61 game when Stewart scored six straight points to close the gap to 74-67 with 1:18 remaining.
“We go it into the lane better. We drove the ball. We were more aggressive,” Eshbaugh said.
Malcolm Hill-Bey made one of two free throws for Seward County, but Dillard drew a foul and connected on both attempts to pull the T-Birds within six points, 75-69.
Purtue went two of two from the line for the Saints.
Stewart scored on a drive, and it was a 77-71 game.
Hill-Bey made one of two free throws, and following a Cloud County turnover, Purtue knocked down a pair to give Seward County an 80-71 cushion.
A three by Derek Henry again made it a six-point game, 80-74, with 29 seconds on the clock.
Stevenson missed two free throws, but Stewart was unable to connect on a three-point attempt.
Two free throws by Purtue with 13 seconds left sealed the win for the Saints.
“We kind of hung around a little bit,” Eshbaugh said, “We had a difficult time keeping them off the free throw line. They shot 30 free throws in the second half. That makes it difficult to come back.”
Cloud County, after hitting just 7 of 19 field goal attempts for 37 percent in the first half, went 16 of 29 in the second half for 55 percent and finished 23 of 48 for 48 percent.
The T-Birds were 22 of 30 from the line for 73 percent.
Stevenson led three Seward County players in double figures with 21 points.
Johnson scored 18 points for the Saints, and Purtue added 17 points.
The Saints were 24 of 50 from the floor for 48 percent and 28 of 42 from the line for 67 percent.
Cloud County hosts Colby on Saturday night.

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