by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC sports information
Kansas City Kansas Community College picked the worst possible time for its worst offensive performance of the 2021 season.
And yet the Blue Devils were seconds away from a miraculous come-from-behind win only to have Highland’s Marquise Milton rip it away with a go-ahead field goal in a 58-56 win. The loss ended the Blue Devils’ season at 10-8 while Highland (10-4) advances into the NJCAA Division II Region VI playoff semifinals at Labette Wednesday night.
For nearly 39 minutes, KCKCC and Highland slugged it out on even terms with 11 lead changes and several ties. Neither team led by more than four points in the second half until Highland’s Zyon Smith nailed his fourth 3-pointer for a 55-49 lead with 1:26 remaining.
Just 52 seconds were left when the Blue Devils made what had the makings of a game-winning rally. With little luck shooting from the field, they did it from the foul line.
Sophomore Deron McDaniel, who missed only two free throws all season, started the comeback with three straight and Robert Rhodes quickly followed with a steal, was fouled and made two free throws, cutting the deficit to 55-54 with 48 seconds left.
Forcing a second Scotties’ turnover, the Blue Devils went ahead 56-55 when Trey Bates fed Caleb Jones perfectly for a layup with 21 seconds to go. Unfortunately, too much time remained.
Highland took a time out and Milton maneuvered down the left lane for a go-ahead layup with 3.3 seconds left. Fouled on the play, he made the free throw and KCKCC could not get off a tying or go-ahead field goal.
The game would never have come down to a last-second shot had the Blue Devils been anywhere close to their season’s offensive averages.
Shooting 45.4 percent for the year, the Blue Devils were 18-of-59 from the field for 30.5 percent. Three-pointers were even worse, 5-of-25 for 19.2 percent. Worst of all, the 56 points were the fewest of the season by a team that averaged 82.6 points their first 19 games.
“It felt like there was a lid on the rim,” KCKCC coach Brandon Burgette said. “We struggled to get in a rhythm; we struggled to score; and they did a good job of slowing down on our leading scorer.”
On the plus side, the Blue Devils were near perfect from the foul line – 15-of-16 (.938), one of the best performances in KCKCC history.
McDaniel and Rhodes led the Blue Devils in scoring with 11 points each while Bates added nine, Jones eight and DeAngelo Bell and Jermaine Yarbough six each.
Rhodes led all rebounders with eight and Jones and Yarbough five each but the Scotties dominated the boards 48-34 including a whopping 15 off the offensive end. Bates led in assists with four while Highland had four more turnovers (17-13).
The game was only KCKCC’s third after a 17-day layoff because of COVID quarantine.
“We had enough time to prepare but you can’t gain the momentum from the time we were off the floor (March 6),” Burgette said. “We had our chances to win at the end but tonight Highland wanted it more. Hats off to them. I’m proud of our sophomores. They gave it their all the last two years but it’s hard to swallow because you never want it to end.”