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Down 13, Blue Devils rally to gain National Tournament Berth

Down 13, Blue Devils rally to gain National Tournament Berth

It was – the greatest comeback in Kansas City Kansas Community College basketball history.

            Trailing nationally ranked Johnson County by 13 points with eight minutes to go in Hutchinson Friday, the Blue Devils not only stormed from behind for a 75-68 win but won going away – all the way to the NJCAA DII national tournament in Danville, Ill.

            The second trip to the nationals for the KCKCC men in five years, it's also the fourth time in that span that KCKCC has had a team in a national basketball tournament, the Blue Devil women winning national championships in 2016 and 2019.

            So how do you outscore a good team like JCCC 25-6 in the final eight minutes? You get outstanding clutch performances from sophomores Calvin Slaughter and Jalen Davis and aggressiveness – both offensively and defensively – that wore the Cavaliers down to a point they missed 12 of their last 13 shots.

The Blue Devils also blocked a spectacular nine shots including three each by 6-8 Jermaine Yarbough and 6-1 Ezekiel Lopes; made 11 of 13 free throws in the final five minutes; and did a number defensively on JCCC's two biggest scoring threats. Lukas Milner, a 6-10 sophomore who had 33 points in a 98-91 JCCC win two weeks ago, was limited to six points; the Jayhawk Conference's most outstanding player, JaQuaylon Mayes, was just 4-of-12 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point in scoring 14 points, all in the second half.

            Slaughter, who led all scorers with 25 points, hit shots that tied the game and put the Blue Devils ahead; Davis hit what proved to be the game-winner with 41.7 seconds left, an off-balance 3-pointer that broke a 68-68 deadlock.

            It all started after Mayes had put JCCC in front 62-49 with three free throws with 8:12 remaining. Two layups by Robert Rhodes sandwiched around a jump shot by Yarbough ignited the comeback followed by two free throws by Deron McDaniel and four by Slaughter that closed the gap to 64-62 and set up the three biggest plays of the game.

            Slaughter somehow came out of a wild melee with an offensive rebound and scored to tie it 64-64, then put the Blue Devils ahead 68-66 with a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:56 left. Mayes' layup, the only JCCC field goal in the final six minutes, got the Cavaliers back even but Davis responded with the shot of the game, a 3-pointer as he was knocked backwards in front of the Blue Devil bench. Fouled on the play, his free throw made it 72-68 with 41.7 left.

            Another free throw by Davis and two by McDaniel wrapped up the comeback as the Cavaliers missed six shots, five of them 3-pointers, in the closing 32 seconds in a game that had five ties and 10 lead changes.

            The final horn set off a post-game celebration for the ages. Players, coaches and fans jumped up and down, swarming the court for hugs and high fives and countless photos. Blue Devils hoisted Coach Brandon Burgette on their shoulders.  McDaniel hung on the rim, from which the net was eventually cut down.

            Slaughter's career high 25 points came on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 treys and 10-of-10 free throws along with seven rebounds and three assists. Rhodes had a double-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots; McDaniel contributed 14 points and three assists; and Davis had12 points. In early foul trouble, Davis played only five minutes in the first half, scoring just three points on one of his 3-of-5 3-pointers.

            Despite Davis' absence, the Blue Devils would open a 24-17 lead midway through the first half only to have the Cavaliers bounce back with sizzling 3-point shooting, 7-of-11 for 63.6 percent including 4-of-5 by 6-8 sophomore Isiah Sears, who led the Cavs with 17 points. The hot shooting pushed JCCC in front 39-31 and it took a 3-pointer by Lopes at the horn to cut KCKCC's halftime deficit to 39-36.

            The win improved the Blue Devils' record to 18-13 (after a 2-8 start) and sends them to the national tourney in Danville the week of March 15-21. Runnerup to KCKCC in the Jayhawk, the Cavaliers finished 25-7 in Mike Jeffers' final year of coaching.