EL DORADO, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team has started the spring semester searching for itself, searching for the identity that helped the team upended nationally ranked Hutchinson and strung together three-straight conference wins prior to Christmas break.
They showed glimpses on Monday, overcoming an early 19-point deficit to close within four of Butler Community College in the second half. But the consistency lacked in a disappointing 86-77 road loss to the Grizzlies.
"We've completely lost our identity. We were a very aggressive-style team when we were winning. I don't know where the timidness we've shown the last few games has come from, but it's really hurting us," said Cloud County head coach, Jordan Altman. "We're not in attack mode, we're pulling the ball back, and no one is consistency looking to score."
Cloud County (10-8 overall, 4-5 KJCCC) was behind the 8-ball early as Butler (12-6 overall, 5-4 KJCCC) leaped out to a 16-2 lead through the game's first three minutes and trailed by as many as 19 early in the first half.
The T-Birds would battle back to within nine points at 48-39 on a 3-pointer by freshman DJ Sims and entered the half within striking distance, down just 50-39.
In the second half, it was Cloud County that got off to the fast start as it cut the deficit down to four at 52-48 at the 17:20 mark on a layup by sophomore Jacob Shields.
Shields and fellow sophomore guard Jerome Kidd Jr. had big days off the bench for Cloud County, leading the team in scoring with 16 points and 15 points, respectively, on 14-of-24 combined shooting.
The 16 points and 25 minutes were each career-high for Shields.
"Those are two good examples of guys who had been struggling and when they got a chance to play, they saw an opportunity," Altman said. "They were two guys who did attack. All of Jacob's points were inside of six feet. Jerome hit three big 3-pointers, but also went and got points at the rim."
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, that would be the closest they'd get over the final 20 minutes as Butler was able to stem the tide and methodically work its lead back up to double-digits at 78-67 with 6:08 remaining and hold on for the 86-77 final.
"It goes back to some of the complacency we're seeing right now. We made a run to get back in the game and then it was like 'Oh, we got it back to four. Good.' And we'd let off the gas again," Altman said.
Freshman forward Edoardo Del Cadia was the third T-Bird in double-figures with 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
It was a quiet day for Cloud County's starters as Del Cadia scored 11 of the group's 28 points.
Redshirt sophomore Alvin Thompson, the second-leading scorer in the KJCCC entering the game, was limited to a season-low six points after scoring 20 or more in six of the past seven games.
Altman said he believes part of his team's struggles to begin January is due in part to the six-week break from classes. Cloud County students aren't due back on campus until January 23.
"This break is killing us. We have no routine, no structure," Altman said. "I'd love for us to be in school right now. We're on vacation right now and it shows."
Cloud County will look to right the ship at 8 p.m. Wednesday with a tough home contest against No. 7 ranked Coffeyville (16-2 overall, 7-1 KJCCC), the defending Region VI champions.
"Coach Herkelman has himself a team that has a shot to do some things in the postseason. Probably the scariest thing is their best players are guards and we've struggled defending scoring guards," Altman said. "If there was anything that tells us we need to play harder, smarter and faster it was hopefully these last two games and we can go ahead and swing away on Wednesday."