Al Key and his Barton Community College teammates know as well as anyone that it will take a collective effort to knock out the Cowley Tigers.
Barton, 26-5, travels to Arkansas City today to take on Cowley, 21-10, tonight at 7 in a quarterfinal game of the NJCAA Region VI postseason basketball tournament. The winner advances to the semifinals on Friday night at Hartman Arena in Park City, a suburb of Wichita.
“We know what to expect when we go to Cowley,” Key said. “We know as a team that they knocked us out last year, so we definitely want to go in there and get a victory.
“We know they’re going to be a good team and we need to bring it. We’re trying to get back to the Arena.”
Rewind to last March. After beating No. 5-ranked Coffeyville in the quarterfinals at Hartman Arena, the Cougars had their season end after Cowley hit 10 of 21 3-point shots en route to a 76-67 semifinal victory.
Seward County beat Cowley 62-48 in last year’s region final to advance to the national tournament, where the Saints took home third place.
Two years ago, Barton traveled to Ark City and lost to Cowley 65-63 in overtime, the seventh overtime game the Cougars played in that season, losing six.
Tyrus McGee, now starring at Iowa State, led Cowley with 23 points in that game, including 15 after halftime and a tiebreaking putback late in OT.
“March Madness has begun,” Barton head coach Craig Fletchall said. “It’s a little different this year in that they’re only taking four teams to Wichita.
“Normally, we’d be playing Cowley at a neutral site, but it is what it is. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Our guys have played good competition, and we feel like we’re prepared for Cowley.”
Key, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard from Decatur, Ga., sits at No. 5 on the career scoring list with 1,166 points, 24 shy of passing former BCC and University of Oklahoma standout Jackie Jones at No. 4.
“It feels good,” Key said. “Hopefully, I can move into the top 3 before my career here is done.”
Key, a returning third-team All-America selection and the team’s leading scorer with a 17.8-point average during the regular season, has been dishing as much as he’s been scoring lately.
“Al has started to get so much attention that he’s really changed his game a little bit to become more of a distributor,” Fletchall said of Key, who has accumulated a team-best 128 assists through 31 games. “He’s been huge, really playing at a high level.”
Key says it’s something that comes in the natural flow of the game.
“I try to set my teammates up when they’re open,” Key said, “and just keep attacking ... just keep the opposition on their heels.
“I don’t go out and try to set a goal for myself to try and score as many points as I can. I just play.”
Sophomore swingman Andell Cumberbatch has turned in 10 double-doubles in his last 17 games. Cumberbatch averaged 14.3 points during the regular season, along with 7.9 rebounds — tops on the team.
Sophomore point guard Turon Parker averaged 12.1 points and has made a team-leading 54 3-pointers.
Freshman post player Raheem Johnson averaged 8.5 points and 7.3 rebounds.
“I think we’re playing pretty good, playing together and playing as a team,” Johnson said. “We can’t underestimate anyone.”