With players dropping left and right on the court Saturday night, it would have been conceivable for the Dodge City Community College Conquistadors to shut things down and lick their wounds against Cloud County.
Not this group of warriors.
The Conqs overcame adversity and picked up their third consecutive victory by shutting down the visiting Thunderbirds 79-69 inside United Wireless Arena.
“Were guarding, it’s as simple as that,” said head coach Brady Trenkle. “On offense, we’re sharing the ball and on defense, we’re guarding. We’re getting down, and we are doing what we have been practicing all year.
"You had to go through what we just went through — we hit rock bottom. You define yourself on how you pull out of that when you’re six feet under like we were.”
Making a comeback
It has been a rocky month for the men, as they dropped six straight games beginning in January to send them from the top of the division to near the bottom, but a renewed fervor in defense has this team playing some of its best basketball of the season. That was once again evident during their meeting with Cloud, which was only a couple of games ahead of the Conqs in the conference.
Saturday’s battle between Dodge and the T-Birds began like any other Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference contest, with both squads exchanging blows on each end of the floor. The Conqs would pull away for an early lead, as Tramel White and Tony Phillips began to work the interior of the Cloud defense.
However, things would become a little more difficult as Dodge City’s leading scorer, R.J. McGhee, went down with an injury very early in the first half. After a turnover from the Conqs had the T-Birds running a fast break for a bucket, McGhee got a good jump on the Cloud player and went up for the block. But he landed awkwardly on the floor, which had McGhee moaning in discomfort.
So down another player, the Conqs looked to maintain their slim lead over the Thunderbirds, but that advantage slowly dwindled down. But with Tyshon Pickett coming off the bench for the first time this season, the Conqs continued to slow down Cloud’s offense, as they went into the locker room with a 35-28 lead.
McGhee returned to action in the second half, but the Thunderbirds had other ideas as they exploded to bring the game within one at 49-48 with eight minutes remaining in the second half. But, enter Pickett, who showed why he is one of the premier forwards in the entire KJCCC.
After a basket from Pickett, Cloud once again closed the gap, but a thunderous slam dunk from Pickett got the crowd jumping and silenced the Thunderbird faithful. Once he got the momentum in Dodge City’s favor, Pickett took over around the rim and even showcased some dribbling skills and a deft mid-range game.
Page 2 of 3 - “We mixed up the lineup tonight, and Tyshon has been in foul trouble almost every single game since we’ve gotten back, so I talked to him and told him to sit down and watch how the flow of the game went and see how they are calling things,” Trenkle said. “We all know what Tyshon can do. It just comes down to having him on the floor, because in games like we had against Pratt, he fouled out in 14 minutes. We need him out there for 25 minutes or more, and when he is, things are going to happen for us.”
Behind Pickett’s dominating performance, the Conqs went on a 19-7 run to put the game out of reach, despite watching White go down with a hard fall to the court late in the second half. He would return a little later on to sink a couple shots to seal the win for Dodge City.
The Conqs were led by Pickett, who recorded another double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds, which also included three blocked shots. Three other Conqs scored in double digits, as White had 15, Phillips had 11 and McGhee finished with 10. As a unit, Dodge City shot 45 percent for the contest while holding Cloud County to 32 percent.
The win improves the Conqs to 6-7 overall in the KJCCC with three games remaining in their regular season. The next game is a Wednesday meeting with the number-one team in the West Division, Seward County.
“The kids will have a day off on Monday, but then we’ll be right back into practice, doing the same thing we’ve been doing these last three wins,” Trenkle said. “We haven’t changed anything. Our game plan hasn’t changed, it’s simplifying things for this team. For Seward, we have to be ready for different personnel, and that’s the key. Right now, it’s just game by game.”
Looking for a win
As for the Lady Conqs, they continue to search for ways to pick up their first conference win after suffering another setback Saturday against Cloud County, dropping their 14th in a row with a 66-49 loss.
Dodge City fell in a hole early on against the Lady Thunderbirds, as 24 percent shooting in the first half had them trailing 31-19 by the halftime intermission. Despite only shooting 28 percent itself, Cloud County was able to get to the free-throw line 14 times to help extend the lead over the Conqs.
The second half would begin much better for head coach Lucas McDonald’s squad as they clamped down defensively, going on an early 4-0 run while holding the Thunderbirds without a point for the first three minutes.
However, for every run that the Conqs had in them, Cloud County had an answer to erase any progress that Dodge City had made earlier on. As soon as the Conqs had the deficit down to single digits deep into the second half, the Thunderbirds would respond with a three-pointer and a couple quick strikes to extend the lead back into an untouchable range.
Page 3 of 3 - Despite the best efforts of Je’nae Strong, Laquaris Harris and Jazmin Villa, the Conqs just did not have enough fuel in the tank to come back for the win. Foul shots from Cloud County down the stretch gave the T-Birds their winning margin at the end of the game.
The Conqs were led by Strong with 19 points and six rebounds, while Harris finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
The loss drops the Conqs to 0-13 in the KJCCC and 8-19 overall, with their next game on Wednesday against a 20-5 Seward County squad.
Wednesday’s contests with Seward are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. for the Lady Conqs and 8 p.m. for the men in Liberal.