BLUE DEVILS EARN FIRST BERTH TO MEN'S NATIONAL BASKETBALL TOURNEY
Defense and clutch performances pave way for 77-66 win over Brown Mackie in title game
Kansas City Kansas Community College will have a team in the NJCAA men's national basketball tournament for the first time in history.
Poised and confident, the Blue Devils captured the Region VI Division II championship Thursday with a 77-66 win over Brown Mackie at Hartman Arena in Park City. The win advances the Blue Devils (22-11) to the national tourney to be held in Danville, Ill., March 15-19, the same dates the KCKCC women will be playing in the women's national tourney at Johnson County after the Lady Blue Devils (29-3) upset No. 1 JCCC 63-57 Thursday.
Buoyed by an 84-76 overtime win at Brown Mackie and a 67-59 home win over the Lions just 12 days ago, the Blue Devils took control in the closing minutes of the first half, withstood a couple of challenges in the second half and stayed totally in control the rest of the way.
"We led by 10 points late in the first half and I thought we should have been up by 14 or 15 and they cut it to seven at the half, a lead I was glad to have because they got two baskets right off the bat in the second half," said KCKCC Coach Kelley Newton.
Trailing 37-30 at the half, Brown Mackie twice got to within three points, the last time at 37-34 but the Lions would get no closer. Every time the Lions would make a run, the Blue Devils would answer back.
Freshmen Kellan Turner and Jon Murray were the offensive catalysts. Turner was deadly when it counted most, 7-of-9 from the field including all three of his 3-point attempts, in an 18-point performance while the 6-9 Murray had 20 points and 10 rebounds including 11 points and six rebounds in the second half.
Smooth-shooting Armoni Shorter was 4-of-6 from 3-point for 12 points along with six rebounds; Joe Lendway had nine points before fouling out; and Mike Lee led with four assists and six points. The Blue Devils also got big contributions off the bench from sophs Dehaven Talley and Lashawn Lewis, Talley with five points and six rebounds and Lewis seven points and two rebounds.
"It's all kind of surreal," said Newton after the celebrating had quieted. "Getting to the national tournament and being the first in school history was so big for this team."
The key to the win, said Newton, was the Blue Devil defense. "It's been the key to the last three games. Our guys have stepped and played for each other and have given a really consistent effort. We never let their shooters get comfortable and we did a good job of limiting them to one shot." KCKCC had a 37-31 rebound advantage including 31-10 on the defensive end.
Tied three times with three lead changes in the opening minutes, KCKCC led by as much as 37-24 late in the first half only to have Brown Mackie close to 37-34 early in the second half. Turner repulsed that rally with two layups and a trey to re-open the lead to 48-40 and the Blue Devils stayed comfortably in front until the Lions made one last-ditch surge, closing to 53-49 with 9:21 to go.
Murray was at the forefront in turning back that rally, scoring three field goals and three free throws and grabbing four rebounds over the next six minutes. Shorter also drained a three and Lee a driving layup before Turner drove home the final dagger, an off-balance 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock for a 70-57 lead. "We had guys in foul trouble (Lendway and Shorter) so someone needed to step up," said Turner.
"Kellan played outstanding," said Newton. "He really made some gutsy plays, separation baskets that kept us in front. And Jon Murray had a very impactful game, especially off the defensive boards."
The Blue Devils will take a seven-game winning streak into the national tournament which will be held at Danville Area Community College. A 16-team double elimination tournament, first round pairings will be announced Tuesday.
A jubilant group of KCKCC Blue Devils proudly showed off the 2016 Region VI championship plaque and the board that showed their route to the college's first berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament following a 77-66 win over Brown Mackie. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)