PRATT – Lessons learned through the season turned into a highly productive bucket from downtown on one of the bigger basketball stages for the women and men of Neosho County Community College Wednesday night.
Thrust into the first round of the Region 6 playoffs at Pratt Community College on Wednesday night as a No. 9 seed versus the No.8 seed in the Lady Beavers, sophomore All-Conference shooting guard Jessica Jones scored 29 points, including five three-pointers – just a point away from her season-high of 30 points on Feb. 8 versus Cowley. Lacing his sneakers up for the No. 11 seeded Panthers versus the No. 6 seeded Beavers, freshman shooting guard Corbett Kimberlin put up a career-high 39 points on nine 3s.
More importantly, both historic feats led to the Lady Panthers blowing out the Lady Beavers 84-64, while the men blew past the Beavers 104-90.
With both wins by NCCC in the first round of the playoffs, this is the first time in NCCC history that both teams will be playing the same opponent in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. And it’s the third time in three years that both teams played the same opponent in the first round.
For the Lady Panthers, the win is the first time in head coach JJ Davis’ tenure that the team has advanced, and the first time since the 1996-97 season the team has made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Reflecting back on the season, Jones, the fourth leading scorer in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, averaging 16.3 points a contest, played like a carbon copy of Paul Pierce, a former Jayhawk, Celtic and a smooth scorer who could hit from anywhere on the court, but could take it to the hole at will. Jones orchestrated her offense in the same manner but in a way, a tad bit different. She used her dribble and screens to get free for an open look, but she was also able to get easy baskets and hit on the midrange game.
“I just did what I had to do to go to the second round,” Jones said on the win. “It’s not anything that I’m not used to. Usually I look for the 3, but I knew last night I had to do more than that. I just had to do what I had to do to win the game, honestly.”
Jones, who is now signed to Southern Arkansas University to play basketball on a full scholarship, knows that a part of her success is from her teammates, and that’s exactly what happened once more. Spacing was optimal thanks to the scoring from All-Conference sophomore guard Chrissy Brown, who produced 18 points, 14 rebounds and six assists – her 15th double-double of the year, including two triple-doubles versus Allen and Cloud. And sophomore swing player Morgan Bolen scored nine points and snatched down 10 boards, while freshman point forward Briona Jensen scored nine points.
NCCC, using a handoff into a double-screen offense, was able to hit 17 3s on 44.7 percent shooting. And the high-tempo bunch shot 13 of 14 from the free-throw line.
While Jones was at the forefront of the three-point show Wednesday night in Pratt, her confidence in shooting the ball wasn’t always there, and she said coach Davis was the one who really helped her out.
“Him just instilling in me that I don’t lose confidence and just keep shooting, it’s honestly brought me a long way,” Jones said.
Jones experiencing the rigors of boot camp in preseason is a long way away, though methodical work portends future success. The shooting specialist attributed her good showing to burpees with sandbags, running around the school and tire flips, among other exercises for boot camp.
This type of work ethic gave Davis the confidence that his team would go on to win versus Pratt, a team that won by just nine points on Jan. 4.
“Our guards are special and when they share the ball, it’s stupid. When they share the ball it’s dumb, because you can’t guard four shooters, it’s almost impossible,” Davis said. “When they make the extra pass, and we play so fast, it’s stupid.”
Tempo aside, Davis raved over the development of his guards, including how Jones has actively trained Brown to be a better shooter and the maturation of Brown’s game. Davis has observed Brown becoming more of a point guard as opposed to being just a scorer. Many times in the Pratt game, Brown stayed disciplined on the offensive end and looked for her teammates to score rather than shooting for herself.
Still, the science of the game isn’t anything without the willingness of players to want to win.
“There are some teams that want to go home. There are some teams that want their season to end, but this team wants to keep playing,” Davis said. “They don’t want it to end. And when you have kids like Chrissy and Jess that don’t want it to end. What goes unsaid is that Jess signed before the season, and she stayed with it and became one of the best players in this league. I give her a hard time all the time. She’s like the grandma of the group, my legs hurt, her hip hurts because it’s a long season. And I’ve been around a lot of kids that signed early, a lot of those kids would have checked out. ... She could have said I’m good, but that’s special.”
For the men, Kimberlin was on fire versus Pratt.
The Chanute native is second in the KJCCC in three-point field goal percentage at 45.5 percent. All year, Kimberlin has made a living at running the floor and finding holes in the defense in an effort to be open for a shot from downtown.
NCCC’s guards, including freshmen guards Jonathan Breeland Jr., Torey Cargo, Jadis White and James Taylor, were aggressive enough to not only score, but to ensure the spacing needed for Kimberlin. His shot-making ability reciprocated the success for those guards, as Breeland Jr. had 11 points and five assists, Taylor put up 11, Cargo had eight, and White had two with three assists. On the inside, sophomore forward Jae-Min Yang beat up Pratt with 20 points and six rebounds.
Player success comes from executing a game plan. The Panthers were running a four-out, one-in and a five-out offense, spacing the floor and knocking down a total of 18 3s at a 64-percent clip. Advantages for NCCC were also hitting 20 of 26 from the free-throw line versus 17 of 25 versus Pratt, and shooting 58 percent from the line versus Pratt’s 43 percent. Kimberlin said head coach Jeremy Coombs’ pregame speech was one of the reasons the Panthers played so well.
“Before the game, he kind of gave us a speech and he said we have to decide if we want to go to Dodge, and I feel we kind of just used that as some motivation, and we came out and did what we were supposed to do. We were ready to play. I feel like that helped us, it motivated us to get to Dodge,” Kimberlin said.
Another motivation was the fact that the Panthers lost by just three points in overtime versus Pratt on Jan. 4. Kimberlin said it was in the back of his mind that NCCC let one slip the first time, and this time around that wasn’t going to be the case, as the Panthers led by as much as 25 points in the game.
“You always want to play your best game, it was good that my best game came in the first round of the playoffs, so we’re able to move on. It just so happened that way that I was hot that game, it was at the right time – glad to move on to the next round,” Kimberlin continued. Another memorable lesson for Kimberlin that helped NCCC advance to the next round: be tough, which is emphasized by Coombs daily.
Coombs said his players had Pratt figured out, and a boost from the coaching staff was the cherry on top for the Panther playoff win.
Coombs attributed these winning factors to one specific lesson.
“I think the biggest thing for us is that you get what you put into it,” Coombs said. “And I think that’s something my dad told me when I was young. And I think that’s something I’m trying to get to these guys, a lot of times these kids – not my kids in particular – any kid thinks that hey, ‘I can just play Division I basketball or I can play in the NBA.’ And they don’t see the hard work that’s in between there.”
Coombs challenged his team leading up to the playoff game to commit to hard work. The 13th-year head coach clamored for his group to knock down 300 jumpers outside of practice. NCCC accomplished that task and the playoff results speak for themselves, as this is the first time in four years since the national tournament team that the Panthers have advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
The Lady Panthers (13-16, 6-14) will next take on Butler (22-8, 15-5) at 1 pm Saturday in Dodge City, while the Panthers (12-19, 6-14) will play the No. 25 team in the nation in Butler (23-7, 15-5) at 5 pm Sunday in Dodge City.