Guess what team has the undisputed possession of first place in the Jayhawk Conference?
One hint: It's the same team that started the season 2-8 including eight straight losses, all on the road.
For perhaps the first time ever, the Blue Devils of Kansas City Kansas Community College have the Jayhawk Conference lead thanks to an 82-65 win Wednesday over Johnson County, a team that started the season ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA DII and came into the game ranked No. 11 nationally. Records aren't immediately available but this may be the first time a Blue Devil team has been alone at the top of the Jayhawk at the halfway point of the season.
And the Blue Devils have a chance Saturday to avenge their only conference loss when they put a five-game winning streak on the line when they host Labette (13-9) in the second half of a 2 and 4 p.m. doubleheader.
"Our goal obviously was to be in good position but being in first is great," said KCKCC Coach Brandon Burgette. "Nothing comes easy. You have to earn it and I think we earned it." Indeed after losing 79-71 at Labette, KCKCC has beaten Hesston 88-69 and won at Fort Scott 75-64 and Highland 91-73.
The Blue Devils took command from the very outset against JCCC, exploding to an 18-6 lead in the first 7½ minutes and expanding it to 28-12 with 8:20 left in the half. Their biggest lead was 60-37 with 12 minutes left in the second half.
Five Blue Devils scored in double figures led by 6-7 Park Hill South freshman Robert Rhodes, who had his third double-double of the season – 15 points and a game high 14 rebounds. Jalen Davis led the scoring with 17 points, 14 in the second half; Jermaine Yarbough scored 16 including 4-of-5 from 3-point; Calvin Slaughter had 12 points and DeAngelo Bell 11. Slaughter and Bell led in assists with four apiece and each had a pair of threes.
"Rob (Rhodes) played the best game of the year," said Burgette. "He was really big on the glass. And Jalen (Davis) played better the second half. We didn't shoot the ball that well (.449) but we had five in double figures which is great. And 22 assists versus nine turnovers is just amazing."
Trailing by 16 points with 8:20 left in the half, the Cavaliers twice closed to within eight points. The first time at 32-24 but Rhodes scored from close range and Yarbough knocked down his first trey to make it 37-24. A thunderous tomahawk dunk by Yarbough off an in-bounds lob from Bell and a basket by Tim Barbieri quelled the second JCCC comeback. Ahead 41-31, Davis opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Bell scored on a layup for a 46-31 lead and it was never close the rest of the way.
"We played well in spurts, some ugly possessions and some good possessions," said Burgette, who applied full court defensive pressure much of the game. "We kept the tempo high. We wanted to make them play fast and us play fast. And we did a real good job of sharing the ball. Not everything is perfect but I'm a perfectionist and I want them to do everything right. We have to keep pushing. You cannot overlook anyone."
"They (KCKCC) came to play and we didn't," said JCCC Coach Mike Jeffers, whose Cavaliers helped the KCKCC cause by missing 15 of their first 17 free throws and shot 39.7 percent from the field. It was Burgette's first game against Jeffers, for whom Burgette was an assistant for three years, and the last for Jeffers at KCKCC. Elected this spring to the NJCAA Hall of Fame, Jeffers is retiring after a 29-year career at JCCC which included two national championships.
PHOTO IDENTS (thunderous dunk)
Jermaine Yarbough's thunderous tomahawk dunk off an in-bounds lob pass from DeAngelo Bell helped quell a Johnson County rally in KCKCC's 82-65 win in Wednesday's first place clash for the Jayhawk Conference lead. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)