by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Smiles and losses usually don’t go hand-in-hand when it comes to Kansas City Kansas Community College men’s basketball coach Kelley Newton but on one occasion this season, they did.
“I think the guys thought I was crazy because I was actually smiling after our loss at Fort Scott,” remembers the third year Blue Devil mentor. Trailing 39-23 at halftime, the Blue Devils had scored 52 points in the second half in an 83-75 setback.
“We had been up and down all season, searching to find an identity or a heartbeat of this team and although we were down double digits at halftime, the second half things came together and kind of clicked. Although we lost the game, I saw a totally different team. What I saw was togetherness, unity, the will to win in everyone. It all poured out in the second half.”
As the next three games would show, it would be the springboard to KCKCC’s first men’s appearance in a national tournament. Seeded No. 13, the Blue Devils (22-11) will open NJCAA Division II national tournament play against No. 4 seeded South Suburban (31-2) out of the Chicago area next Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Danville Area Community College in Danville, Ill.
Denied a first round bye in the Region VI playoffs after closing the regular season with losses at Hesston and Fort Scott – the Blue Devils’ only back-to-back losses in regional play – KCKCC had the unenviable task of beating Highland a third time this season.
“It was kind of a crazy game because no one wanted to take control,” Newton said. Tied 26-26 at halftime, the Blue Devils held the Scotties scoreless the first five minutes of the second half and took a commanding 36-26 lead on the way to a 73-66 home court win. “Our defense was outstanding the second half, much like how well we played the second half at Fort Scott.”
The win set up KCKCC’s most pivotal game, a semifinal showdown at Johnson County which had beaten the Blue Devils twice, both by double digits.
“This was different,” Newton said. “Our guys were hungry and were not going to be denied. We felt we were pulling together at just the right time. We jumped on them early and led wire-to-wire. They cut the lead to one a couple of times but responded.”
Trailing 59-49, the Cavaliers closed to 61-60 with 4:19 left but Jon Murray scored on a layup, Kellan Turner drained a huge 3-pointer and LaShawn Lewis scored from close range for a 68-60 lead on the way to a 74-67 win.
Back in the Region VI championship game for a second straight year against a Brown Mackie team that they had beaten twice (once in overtime), the Blue Devils opened a 37-24 late in the first half and led all the way in a 77-67 win. Twice the Lions twice got within three points but timely goals by Turner (18 points including four treys) and Jon Murray (20 points, 10 rebounds) stemmed the tides.
“Everybody was locked in at both ends of the floor,” Newton said. “We continued to get stops and rebound and never wavered even with Mike (Lee) and Joe (Lendway) in foul trouble.”
The key to the Blue Devils’ success has been balance and depth. Three players have scored in double figures, three more 7.2 points or better as Newton has built his squad around four sophomores and three freshmen:
Joe Lendway – KCKCC’s lone All-Region first team selection, the Lansing grad led Region VI in field goal accuracy (.583) and was fourth in rebounding with 6.5 per game. He also led the team in scoring with a 12.9 average.
Kellan Turner – A second team All-Region VI pick who had a redshirt season due to a broken wrist, Turner led the Blue Devils in 3-point goals (66), was second in assists (2.5) and third in scoring (10.7).
Jon Murray – One of three freshmen in the starting lineup, the 6-9 Murray finished second in Region VI in rebounding (7.0) and fifth in field goal percentage (.513). He also was second in team scoring at 10.9.
Armonti Shorter – One of the most pure shooters at KCKCC in recent years, Shorter moved up into the starting lineup late in season. A 41.8 percent shooter from 3-point, he averaged 7.2 points and 3.1 rebounds.
Mike Lee – The Blue Devil field general on the floor, Lee led Region VI in rebounding with 5.8 per game. A freshman point guard, he also averaged 9.5 points and 3.1 rebounds.
Dehaven Talley – Standout sixth man after starting 14 games. A sophomore from Shawnee Mission Northwest, Talley averaged 8.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists and led in free throw accuracy at 80.0 percent.
Lashawn Lewis – Another big contributor off the bench, the 6-5 sophomore averaged 4.7 points and 3.6 rebounds.
While those seven have got the majority of playing minutes, the Blue Devils have got major contributions from freshmen Trevor Young, a 6-6 forward from Lansing who averaged 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds; 6-2 guard Garrick McCuller, the backup to Lee at point guard; and Donald Metoyer, a 6-9 frosh from Washington High School who averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds.
Alan Hoskins is the sports information director at KCKCC.