Kansas City Kansas Community College is one win away from another trip to an NJCAA DII national basketball tournament.
A surprisingly decisive 100-79 winner over Labette Tuesday, the No, 1 seeded Blue Devils will collide in a third time showdown with arch-rival Johnson County Friday night at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson at 7:30 p.m. The No. 2 seeded Cavaliers reached the Region VI finals with a 73-68 win over Highland Tuesday.
The two teams split their first two games this season, the Blue Devils winning 82-65 at home; the Cavaliers rebounding for a 98-91 behind a career high 33 points and 10 rebounds from 6-10 Lukas Milner in the final game of the season for both teams.
A win will send a Blue Devil team to a national tournament for the fourth time in four years. KCKCC's women won national championships in 2016 and 2019; the men advanced to the national in Danville, Ill., in 2016.
"We've got to be ready; I don't think we were ready in our last game against Johnson and I put that on me," said first year KCKCC Coach Brandon Burgette. "I don't think I had us ready. To win, we must contain Milner and the guards." Milner did not play in the first meeting for the Cavaliers, who also lost the Jayhawk's leading scorer, JaQualon Mays, to a first half injury. Mays had 21 points in the second meeting.
While the Blue Devils put 100 points on the board against Labette Tuesday, the defense was equally effective, holding the Cardinals without a field goal for nearly 6½ minutes during a 21-1 stretch in which they built a 17-16 lead into a 38-17 bulge.
"We were locked in both offensively and defensively," said Burgette. "We guarded them well, did a good job of contesting shots and getting rebounds and out-letting the ball for fast breaks. You never expect any game to be easy but now it's win or go home and tonight we didn't want to go home."
Labette fifth year coach Jerrod Stanford credited KCKCC's intensity for the win. "We were a foot slow," said Stanford. "You can't win games without intensity and KCKCC had more of it tonight."
Sophomore Jalen Davis put a spectacular end to his home career, knocking down 9-of-10 shots including a pair of 3-pointers, to lead all scorers with 24 points. He also had five rebounds, five steals and a couple of dunks. "Jalen played great; really shot the ball well," said Burgette.
Four other Blue Devils were in double figures. Jermaine Yarbough had 17 points including at least three thunderous slam dunks; Calvin Slaughter scored 14 points and led all rebounders with 11; Ezekiel Lopes also had 14 points including four 3-pointers and Deron McDaniel added 11 points.
Robert Rhodes led defensively with a career high seven blocks and seven rebounds while taking just three shots, making two. "He's been phenomenal on the glass and a great rim protector," said Burgette.
While delighted with 53.8 percent shooting from the field (35-of-65), Burgette was more impressed with a season high 28 assists on the 35 field goals. "That's amazing," said Burgette. "It just shows what you can do when no one cares who gets the credit. You play the right way, good things happen."
Slaughter, Lopes and Davis each had five assists, Rhodes four, Bell and Yarbough three each and Jaemaal Newson two and six points in just eight minutes of playing time.
KCKCC's pivotal 21-1 scoring rampage came after four ties and two lead changes the first nine minutes. Yaarbough started the run with a layup and two-handed dunk and Lopes drained a 3-pointer before Davis added two dunks, a layup and two free throws, Ball scored on a layup and McDaniel knocked down a trey. The Blue Devils doubled the score by halftime 51-25, making half of their 36 shots while limiting Labette to 28.6 percent, forcing seven turnovers and controlling the rebounding 27-17.