CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team faced its biggest test to date on Saturday, battling tough against an athletic and talented Iowa Western Community College team.
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, a season-high 28 turnovers stalled their chances to upend the visiting Reivers as Iowa Western pulled away late for an 82-70 victory to conclude the Cloud County Thanksgiving Classic.
"That was the first time that we've played against that type of size and strength," said Cloud County head coach, Jordan Altman. "Some of the moves and things we were getting away with we weren't getting away with (Saturday). And we had a lot of bad individual mistakes where we just weren't taking care of the ball."
Cloud County (6-3 overall) was averaging just 14.1 turnovers coming into the contest, but had 18 through the game's first 20 minutes.
Despite the giveaways, the T-Birds were able to hang with the Reivers (8-1 overall) as they headed into the half down just 37-32.
In the second half, Iowa Western methodically built its lead up to 13 points by the second-half media timeout at 61-48.
Cloud County rallied with a 10-2 run to cut the deficit back to five at 63-58 on a three-point play by sophomore guard Jacob Shields.
Shields, who saw an uptick in minutes due to an injury to freshman guard Ty Duin late in the first half, shined in his expanded role with a career-high 10 points, eight coming in the second-half comeback.
"Jacob's role on this team is only going to get bigger," Altman said. "When you come off an injury like the one he had, you expect the world. He was disappointed in how he played (Friday) and it was really good to see him get a couple baskets to fall (Saturday)."
The Reivers responded with a 10-2 run of their own over the next 2:42 to bump the lead back out to 73-60 with 4:10 remaining. Cloud County wouldn't inch closer than 12 the rest of the way.
Sissoko added five rebounds and three blocks in his 22 minutes while making life difficult on defense for the lengthy frontcourt of Iowa Western, featuring star forward Emmanuel Ugboh standing at 6'11, 242 pounds.
Ugboh was limited to 14 points after going off for 23 in Friday's win over Pratt Community College.
"Sidy has been by far one of our best defensive players. He's done a good job of finishing around the rim. We just need to get him a little more confident executing our offense," Altman said. "Defensively, he had one of the best weekends. He shut down two mid-major to upper NCAA Division I caliber post players the last two days."
Cloud County will now turn its attention toward the conference season, which begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday at home against Garden City Community College.
The T-Birds will be without freshmen guards Gabe Pieschl and Duin indefinitely due to injury, but Altman said the team will have to turn the page and receive contributions from everyone as they prepare for KJCCC action.
"There's nothing you can do about that. We're not going to hang our heads or let the guys feel sorry for themselves in any way," said Altman about the injuries. "We preach getting through adversity and we certainly have some in front of us now. Hopefully we can respond."