Artificial crowd noise blared through Panthers Gymnasium. In the stands, coaches and players wearing face masks and coverings cheered for their favorite teams as they dribbled and scored up and down the court.
No other fans were allowed because of COVID-19, but that could change after Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference officials meet again in February to revisit the topic. Baseball and softball athletes did do their best to peek through the gymnasium’s doors to see as much of the games as they could.
Still, both Neosho County Community College basketball teams were able to take care of business in their first basketball games of the year Thursday night. The Lady Panthers pummeled Bethel College 107-62.
Freshman point guard Destiny Stanford scored 20 points, had eight assists, and brought down five rebounds. Freshman shooting guard Sarah Hunt put up 16 points and eight assists. And sophomore guard Briona Jensen registered a double-double, 14 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
“It’s been a long time coming for this group – 14 freshmen, three sophomores,” eighth-year head coach JJ Davis said after the game. “I just thank God that we got to play. Nobody’s ever went through something like this. It’s special for the kids and I’m just glad they got to play the game.”
With the score 20-12 NCCC at the end of one, the Lady Panthers revved up their defensive intensity and the overall pace of the game, which led to 11 total 3s in the first half. Bethel just had one 3 in the first half.
There was a reason for that. Stanford as the starting point guard controlled the pace of play. As a leader on the floor, she was constantly communicating and organizing the offense, which led to some nice scoring drives and two 3s for herself.
NCCC shot the ball at a 54.8 percent clip and 40 percent for 3s in the first half. That efficiency had a lot to do with Stanford’s aggressiveness, savvy, and her teammates being in the right place at the right time.
“It’s really cool,” Stanford said. “We’ve been practicing for so long and going at it. And we’re just so glad that we got to play and get a win for the first game. We are very excited.
“(The difference between the high school level and college is) it’s more extreme and going at it. It’s very fun and more energetic.”
It’s definitely that way when a team is just flat-out better than the competition. With that advantage, Stanford was aggressive, hitting shots, producing on 9 of 15 from the floor. And when it was time to run other set plays, including hand-offs and screens to free up Hunt on some looks, the sharpshooter Hunt was able to capitalize, making 6 of 10 from the field, including 4 of 8 from downtown.
“It’s a lot of fun being able to run the court, running the ball, and they were going to get the ball to me,” Hunt said. “It’s fun to play at a fast pace. It’s different, it’s a lot different. It’s something to get used to, but I think we’ve put in the work and actually been able to get used to it very well. The pace is so much different. It’s faster in college. We just have to be able to keep up. And I think we all did a good job of keeping the pace.”
The pace also helped Jensen, who went 5 of 7 from the floor.
But it was the defensive end that set the tone for NCCC, causing 22 turnovers for Bethel. NCCC had just nine. As a team, NCCC shot 51 percent, while Bethel only shot 30 percent.
BETHEL 12 11 23 16 – 62
NCCC 20 40 23 24 — 107
Stanford 20, Hunt 16, Jensen 14, Lauren Jones 8, Mike’ Ya 8, Rajone Callahan 9, Jenna Eytcheson 6, Aubrey Ball 4, Tanay Williams 4, Haley Perkins 4, Emilee Escareno 2, Daniella Duran 2, Sadie Govan 7, Danielle Weaver 3.
In the men’s game, the Panthers were just bigger, stronger, faster and more talented on the floor than the other team.
The talent disparity meant a 117-56 shellacking by the Panthers over Bethany JV. Freshman guard Deondre Buggage scored 22 points, had four assists and three rebounds. Sophomore guard Magic Reliford also put up 22 points, had three dimes, and stole the rock three times. Sophomore small forward De’Antray Hughes added 15 points and four rebounds.
“I just try to get the offense going, get my teammates going, and I also look for my shot on the offensive end if I got it. If I got it, I’ll take it. If I don’t, I’m not and I’ll look for my teammates,” Buggage said. “I was definitely knocking down a lot of 3s and the defense started extending, and it opened up other things for other teammates.”
With Buggage and Reliford hitting 3s from everywhere early and often – Buggage was 6 of 14 from beyond the arc and Reliford was 5 of 10 from downtown – the game started to really unravel for Bethany when Hughes had two dunks within the span of 40 seconds in the middle of the first half. The first dunk was a baseline jam, while the other was off an offensive rebound – one that was secured by freshman point guard Cougar Downing, who found Hughes in the paint for another jam.
Those plays put NCCC up 31-24 with 10:36 left in the first half. And the rout was on after Buggage found Reliford, who drained a wide-open 3 to make the score 42-20 with under five minutes to go in the first half.
In the first half alone, the Panthers hit 11 3s on 50 percent shooting, while making 23 of 37 from the field.
But basketball is an interdependent sport. Downing’s first points of the game happened to be an and-one basket. His ability to easily get to the hole caused Bethany to overcompensate in the lane, which left the perimeter open for NCCC.
On the defensive end, the Panthers were trapping and playing full-court press, and on many occasions, Bethany rushed on the offensive end, lending a hand for NCCC to get some easy and wide-open baskets on the other end of the floor after many missed baskets. NCCC had a 62-21 lead at halftime.
“Offensively we can shoot the basketball – there’s no question about that,” 14th-year NCCC head coach Jeremy Coombs said. “We don’t want to just (shoot 3s). We don’t want to live and die by the 3. But we did shoot it really well. My biggest thing is, I want to play defense. I want to make sure they are executing on plays. Like I said, we haven’t played yet. Normally we play at least 12 exhibition games. It’s obviously a lot different, but we just want to come out, focus and execute offensively and defensively.”
The Panthers continued executing on both ends of the floor in the second half. Coombs even brought in his reserve players, but then he put the starters back in late in the second half. Chanute’s Tye Coombs, the coach’s son, is on the team, but he didn’t see action Thursday despite the team being up 40 and 50 points for much of the second half. Coombs said he just needed more preparation for Dodge City on Wednesday, likely a tougher matchup.
Still, bringing in the starters led to 28 turnovers and 30 percent shooting for Bethany. NCCC had just 15 turnovers while shooting 60 percent for the game.
NCCC (1-0) will gear up for Ottawa University JV today, 4 pm at home. The Lady Panthers (1-0) will play Labette Community College today at 2 pm at home.
BETHANY JV 21 35 — 56
NCCC 62 55 — 117
Buggage 22, Reliford 22, Hughes 15, Daniel Titus 11, Malik Carson 11, Downing 8, Makye Loggins 7, Quentin Asberry 7, Tremaine Chesley 4, Myron Washington 4