CONCORDIA, Kansas — A tremendous bounce-back season for the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team came to a confounding end Wednesday night as the T-Birds fell 68-56 at home to Pratt Community College in the first round of the Region VI Playoffs.
There was no rhyme or reason to it, nothing the T-Birds could pinpoint that led to their struggles scoring the basketball on Wednesday.
Cloud County (16-15 overall), which entered the evening winners of four straight and shooting an average of 41 percent from the floor, couldn't buy a basket against the Beavers (15-16 overall), finishing 14-of-54 (26 percent) and 3-of-23 (13 percent) from the 3-point line.
"There weren't too many shots, particularly in the first half, that I wouldn't have taken. They just wouldn't fall," said Cloud County head coach, Jordan Altman. "Then in the second half we started to force some things, which was probably necessary. Just couldn't throw it in today. Couldn't get a bucket to go down."
Despite their woes from the field, the T-Birds were able to maintain pace with Pratt for the first 25 minutes of the game thanks to its defense and free-throw shooting.
Following a pair of free throws by sophomore Jacob Shields that inched Cloud County within six at 39-33, the T-Birds were 19-of-24 at the free throw up to that point at the 15:20 mark of the second half.
Defensively, Cloud County held Pratt below its season scoring average and to a pedestrian 42 percent (25-of-59) while forcing 18 turnovers and winning the rebounding battle, 44-40.
"Defense and free throws really kept us in it," Altman said. "We were driving at the rim, we just couldn't finish and get the ball to drop. I credit the guys for really playing some defense to keep it a low scoring game."
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, that was the closest they'd come the rest of the way as Pratt would build its lead to as many as 19 points with 5:18 remaining to close out the 68-56 final.
Freshman forward Edoardo Del Cadia was the lone T-Bird in double-figures with 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
With 58 seconds remaining, Thompson, the T-Birds' leading scorer this season at 16.5 points per game, was subbed out and received an ovation from the home crowd and student section on his way to the bench in his last game inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium. The 2019 Homecoming King out of St. Louis, Missouri will graduate this May with 819 career points.
"Alvin Thompson is one of those special guys you don't get to coach every couple of years. On the court, off the court, the kind of person he is; he's meant a lot to this community," Altman said. "I think it's important the community knows how much they've meant to him. I know he reflects on his last three years here as some of the best years he's ever had. He loves it here and that goes a long way for us to build a future and bring kids in when we can look at a story like Alvin Thompson and say 'This is what we do here at Cloud. This is who we are.'"
Thompson led a sophomore class that included impact returners Jerome Kidd Jr., Adetomi Ayilara, Brayden Day and redshirt freshman Nysir Scott who helped turn around the T-Birds from a six-win team a season ago into an above .500 team in 2018-19.
"Lot of pride, lot of thanks on my behalf to the five guys who stuck it out and came back," Altman said. "They learned a lot about themselves and hopefully put themselves in a position to continue their careers and move on. There was a lot of pride that we didn't have to start completely over after our struggles last year and to have that core group of guys is why we were able to get to that winning season and not just a mild improvement."
"I think we're going to have two top-100 junior college players next year in Edoardo Del Cadia and Iyen Enaruna. Those two forwards are going to be recruited as much as any young men in the country," Altman said. "Then if there is one position where you want returners and experience, it's the point guard position. We may be the most experienced in the country at that position next year. Again, it's two guys (Nysir Scott and DJ Sims) who have a lot of positives going for them. Gabe Pieschl had to deal with an injury (broken wrist early in the season), but his upside is his ability — he was scoreless tonight, but I don't think anyone watching that game would say he didn't contribute — to find other ways to contribute and be part of the team."
It's a core Altman said he believes will only continue to improve when the T-Birds take aim at the KJCCC East again next winter.
"We've got a big future," Altman said. "We need to go sign some guys and rebuild a little bit here. But at the junior college level, returning five guys, and five guys with the amount of experience these guys have, is a great start moving into the 2019-2020 season."