Highly ranked Johnson County couldn't beat Kansas City Kansas Community College three times this season. Now can the Blue Devils beat Brown Mackie a third time in Thursday's Region VI Division II championship game?
Leading wire-to-wire, the Blue Devils got revenge for two earlier losses to JCCC with a solid 74-67 win on the No. 7 ranked Cavaliers' home court Tuesday and are now in position for their first ever berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament. That opportunity gets underway Thursday when KCKCC (21-11) and Brown Mackie (18-14) square off at 3 p.m. in Hartman Arena in Park City north of Wichita.
"It's going to be a hard fought game among the two biggest teams in the league," says KCKCC Coach Kelley Newton. "It's a good matchup for both teams. We match up well with them and we match up well for them." KCKCC had to go into overtime in an 84-76 win at Brown Mackie; then won 67-59 at home.
The Blue Devils turned in one of their best overall efforts in getting even for two double-digit losses to Johnson County. KCKCC jumped in front 6-0 and after JCCC's only tie of the game at 8-8, the Blue Devils surged to a 20-13 lead on two field goals each by Dehaven Tallen and Lashawn Lewis on the way to a pair of 10-point leads.
The Cavaliers made two runs at overcoming a 34-29 deficit in the second half. The first came at the start of the second half`at 34-31 but the Blue Devils got two field goals from Jonathan Murray, one each from Joe Lendway and Mike Lee and a three-pointer from Armoni Shorter to reopen the lead to 46-34. Their biggest lead was 13.
The second JCCC rally came when the Cavaliers cut a 59-49 deficit to 61-60 with 4:19 left. But Murray banged in a layup, Kellan Turner drained a huge 3-pointer and Lewis scored from in close. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers missed three straight treys as the KCKCC lead soared to 68-60 and Turner and Murray kept the lead safe from the foul line.
Six Blue Devils scored eight or more points in the well-balanced effort led by Murray with a double double of 16 points and 14 rebounds, 13 off the defensive boards. Murray also had four of seven shots blocked by KCKCC. Shorter added 14 points including four three-pointers; Lendway had 12 points and six rebounds; Turner 11 points; Lee eight points and four assists; and Lewis nine points off the bench on 4-of-5 shooting in just 12 minutes.
"Lashawn gave us some real quality minutes and Jon Murray's rebounding, especially off the defensive boards, was awesome," said Newton. "He dove at a ball and then called a time out in the second half in what I thought was one of the biggest plays of the game."
KCKCC gave up only six offensive rebounds in out-rebounding the Cavaliers 39-28. "Defensive rebounding was the biggest key in the win," said Newton. "We contested all of their shots. Most of those they made were from 30 feet and I can live with those. Just don't give up anything easy."
Eight of JCCC's 23 field goals came from three-point but KCKCC nearly matched that with 7-of-22. The Blue Devils shot 46.6 percent from the field but 50 percent (15-of-30) in the second half when JCCC made its runs.
PHOTO: Jonathan Murray had 16 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocked shots in 74-67 KCKCC win