by Alan Hoskins
As hard as they tried, Kansas City Kansas Community College’s Blue Devils could not bring down Goliath Saturday.
With 7-foot budding superstar Joseph Acuil either swatting away or intimidating just about every Blue Devil inside shot, Neosho County pulled away in the second half for an 82-58 win.
The good thing, however, is the loss doesn’t count against KCKCC in the Jayhawk standings. Because of the use of an ineligible player, the Panthers are banned from post-season play and their games do not count in conference play.
“That’s very unfortunate,” said KCKCC coach Kelley Newton. “Neosho is good, really good, probably the best in the conference. It’s too bad they’re not going to get to show how good they are in the post-season.” Officially, the Panthers are 13-9 but in actuality, they’ve only lost twice.
A native of Melbourne, Australia, who has committed to Baylor, Acuil got in early foul trouble and played just eight minutes in the first half, scoring only two points and grabbing no rebounds. As a result the Blue Devils led by as much as 20-14 midway through the first half before trailing 37-31 at the break.
But the Blue Devils had no answer for Acuil in the second half. That the 7-0 Acuil should throw down three thunderous dunks and block four or five shots and alter countless others should not come as a surprise but the fact he was able to go outside and drain 3-of-5 three-pointers was testimony to the fact he may be the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year next season.
KCKCC was still within five points at 47-42 with 11 minutes left when Acuil hit a 3-pointer and a layup, then added another trey and two more baskets for a 64-48 lead. He would finish with 20 points on 8-of-12 shots and seven rebounds to go along with 10 rebounds from 6-7 Greg Wimberly and 21 points from guard Brett Frantz.
Equally important, the Blue Devils were intimidated into their worst shooting performance of the season, just 27.3 percent on 18-of-66 shots while the Panthers were knocking down 31-of-54 for a sizzling 57.4 percent.
Bishop Ward sophomore C.J. Vallejo had another big night for the Blue Devils, knocking down five 3-pointers including four the first half to finish with a game high 24 points. Austin Hall chipped in with nine points, Roberto Hernandez seven and Ray Ridley six.
KCKCC actually won the rebound battle 43-37 with Joe Lendway leading with six and LeShawn Lewis and Babjide Aina five each.
The Blue Devils now return to Region play with three straight games on the road starting at Fort Scott Wednesday at 8 p.m. They’re also as Johnson County Saturday at 4 p.m. and Labette Feb. 4 before returning home against Fort Scott Feb. 7.
Alan Hoskins is the sports information director at KCKCC.