There is little doubt it wasn’t a typical opening round game for a high seed. So to say it was a huge upset might be a bit of an over statement.
But it was indeed an upset. One that ended the Barton Community College men’s basketball season earlier that expect and on a disappointing note.
The Cougars season ended when they fell to Cloud County, 84-81, Saturday night at the Barton Gym to open Region VI playoff action. Barton ends its season with a 24-7 record. Cloud moves on to quarterfinal play with at 17-14.
“It is a bitter pill to swallow,” Barton Coach Craig Fletchall said. “It is the first home playoff loss for us in my 10 years. I had to say goodbye to five very talented sophomores and had to do it in our own locker room. That’s tough.”
Seeds tell you the Cougars were the No. 2 seed from Jayhawk West and Cloud No. 9. But Cloud was anything but a bottom feeder. The Thunderbirds had beaten Barton earlier in the season and the two played a close game at Barton just three days prior.
Cloud had been a Top 25 team for the first half of the season, ranked as recently as early January.
But somehow the Thunderbirds found themselves in tied for last in the West, which gave them the No. 9 seed in the West and a trip to Barton – in part thanks to a Jayhawk East team serving a suspension. Normally, the Cougars would have played the last place team from the East – a much easier matchup.
With all those things in place the recipe for an upset was there.
“We knew when the bracket came out we had a tough draw,” Coach Fletchall said. “Cloud has a good team and we knew it. They didn’t come up and surprise us. We didn’t look past them.
“We knew they could play. They beat us earlier and almost beat us a couple days ago so we knew how good they were.”
The difference in the game was the Thunderbirds ability to score in the second half. After scoring just 26 points in the opening half while shooting 29 percent (12 percent on 3’s) the Thunderbirds hit 52 percent in the second half including a sizzling 67 percent on 3’s. Cloud hit 10-of-15 3-point shots in the final 20 minutes on its way to a 58-point half.
Barton was in control most of the first half and took a 35-26 lead to halftime.
Cloud gave a preview of things to come as the Thunderbirds first shot of the second half was a made 3-pointer.
It took all of three minutes for the Thunderbirds to catch Barton at 37-all. Cloud wasn’t able to overtake Barton until another 3-pointer at the 12-minute mark for a 51-49 lead.
The teams traded the lead for several minutes until a 10-2 run by Cloud over a two minute stretch gave the T-Birds a 70-62 lead with 5:34 to play.
Things looked bleak with one minute to play and Barton trailing 79-70 before one last furious rally. The Cougars got the lead down to 84-81 follow a pair of free throws with eight seconds to play. And when Cloud turned the ball over on the inbounds pass the Cougars had a chance to tie the game.
Christian Smith got that opportunity but the sophomore from Derby’s trey rimmed out and the season was over.
“We knew they were a team that could get hot,” Coach Fletchall said. “But this is a tough, tough loss for us. You never like to see the season end but this one is especially hard to take.”
Ahmad Walker, a player of the year candidate in the Jayhawk West, closed out his Barton career with 27 points and 13 rebounds. It was his 11th double-double of the season. The 6-4 guard added a team-high six assists. Tyrone Acuff added 14 points Tyron Hamby 12 and sophomore Kenny Enoch 10.
Ridell Ammidge hit 6-fo-12 3’s – 4-of-5 in the second half – to lead the Thunderbirds with 26 points.
Cloud will now get Dodge City (18-13) in the quarterfinals at 1 pm Thursday in Wichita.