Kelley Newton's No. 1 priority when he took the job of head men's basketball coach at Kansas City Kansas Community College three years ago was to get the Blue Devils to the national tournament for the first time.
That accomplished, Newton wants more. "Very definitely," says the former Wyandotte High School and University of Oklahoma standout. "I'm more hungry now than I've ever been. People say it's hard to get to the national tournament but it's even a harder task to continue to get there. It's the place I want to be year and year out."
Seeded No. 12 in the national tournament in Danville, Ill., the Blue Devils drew a No. 4 seeded South Suburban team that would eventually finish third nationally – dropping a 57-50 opening round decision that went right down to the final seconds.
Tied 50-50 on a clutch 3-point shot by KCKCC's Armonti Shorter, South Suburban regained the lead on a baseline layup by point guard Erick Locke with 47 seconds remaining. "We took a time out only to step out of bounds," said Newton. Forced to foul, Jovan Mooring converted two free throws for a 54-50 lead with 27 seconds to go and the Blue Devils' final hopes ran out on missed shots by Shorter and Dehaven Talley.
"Four plays led to our demise," said Newton. "While we outrebounded them, they got two big offensive rebounds and scored on both. Then we had a shot clock violation late and then the stepping out of bounds. Four plays were the difference."
The late setback erased what was a superlative defensive effort by the Blue Devils. South Suburban came into the game averaging 94 points a contest and had not been held to less than 72 points by any team this season. "We did exactly what we wanted to do defensively," said Newton. "We've felt all along we could play defense with the best in the country and that they did not know what they were up against. We mixed up defenses like we always do to bother them and we did."
Unfortunately, the offense did not match the defense. Just 2-of-17 from 3-point (11.8 percent), the Blue Devils were 20-of-59 overall for 33.9 percent and further complicated matters by turning the ball over 14 times. "It was disappointing not making more shots, I did not expect that," said Newton. "We rebounded well and got pretty good post play but just could not get any relief from the outside."
Freshman Jon Murray had 15 points and 7 rebounds, Shorter 12 points and 8 rebounds and Joe Lendway 9 points and 10 rebounds as they led the Blue Devils to a 43-36 rebound advantage against a team boasting the No. 2 rebounder in the nation in Shakur Pinder, who managed just seven. Mike Lee added eight points for KCKCC.
Jovan Mooring, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, led South Suburban with 22 points but needed 24 shots for his nine field goals. Just 3-of-18 from 3-point, South Suburban overcame a 27-24 halftime deficit with 50 percent shooting the second half.
Dropped into the consolation bracket, the Blue Devils were eliminated by Cecil College 80-67. "It was a hard game to play after losing the first game," said Newton. "We just could not get anything going on the inside. We cut the lead to three and five points a couple of times but just could never get over the hump."
The Blue Devils were also guilty of 22 turnovers which Cecil converted into 18 points. "It's pretty hard to win with 22 turnovers," said Newton. "They were really quick and fast but the difference was that they were able to get easy baskets and we didn't."
Mike Lee, Lashawn Lewis and Lendway each had 13 points, Stephen Moore 9 and Murray 8 for KCKCC, which was just 24-of-66 for 36.4 percent compared to 50 percent for Cecil (27-of-54). Murray had nine rebounds, Lewis seven and Talley and Kellan Turner six each for the Blue Devils, who won the rebounding battle 44-38. Turner and Lee also had four assists each.
The game was the final for four Blue Devils – Lendway, Shorter, Lewis and Talley. In their two years, the Blue Devils were 45-20, the second best two-year record in history.
Disappointed by two losses in the NJCAA Division II national tournament, Kansas City Kansas Community College's 2015-16 basketball team nevertheless wrote itself into the record books as the College's first ever men's national tourney qualifier. (NJCAA Photo by Fred Pancoast)