Jonathan Breeland Jr. led his team with a sense of urgency to give Neosho County Community College its first win of the new year against Garden City Wednesday at Panther Gymnasium.
Breeland Jr. finished with a game-high 21 points and five rebounds, while Jae-Min Yang contributed with 18 points and nine boards. Chol Adup had 11 points and Torey Cargo paced with 10 points and two steals.
Garden City, however, started the game on an 11-4 run behind two 3s and a layup from Tahlik Chavez.
But Cargo hit a 3 to put NCCC up 12-11, which gave the Panthers their first lead of the day. From this point on – NCCC had a 12-0 run that put them up 16-11 in the first half – the Panthers didn’t trail and went on to win 72-67 over the Bronco Busters.
Head coach Jeremy Coombs knew his team would come out with a sense of urgency, especially after the three-point loss to Pratt Community College in overtime last Saturday on the road.
“We had to defend and that’s just what we didn’t do in the second half over in Pratt, so the emphasis was defending, and fighting and battling, trying to do whatever it takes to win the ballgame,” Coombs said. “And it showed in the first half; we held them to 23 points. That’s a team that averages 85 points a game. We sat down and locked them up in the first half.
“We did a great job of rebounding as well, which we kind of struggled (with) late in the game over in Pratt, we gave up two offensive boards late in the game that really cost us. I thought we did a nice job of taking care of the basketball, which we didn’t do over in Pratt. I thought we had a great week of practice. I know the guys probably didn’t like it, it was a really tough week of practices, but at the end of the day, it made them better. That’s why we won this game.”
Breeland Jr. also had a significant hand in assisting in NCCC’s seventh win on the year. From the very start, Breeland Jr. did an exceptional job of setting the tempo and setting up the half-court offense. He also handled the basketball well in full-court and in half-court situations, whether it’s making the right decision in full court, or knowing when to use a screen in the half-court in an effort to navigate to the rim to dish off or to score an easy basket.
The pick-and-roll worked well at times for guys to hit open 3s, and Yang took what the defense gave him within the framework of the offense to find his shots at the basket.
Breeland Jr. said he knows what to look for when the ball is in his hands.
“I just look to attack every time I have the ball. When I’m attacking, that sets up my other teammates so they can get a bucket, and I can get a bucket, I like to involve my teammates,” Breeland Jr. said after the game. “I just try to stay calm, and not try to speed myself up. And stay aggressive the whole time.”
Breeland Jr.’s aggressiveness allowed NCCC to shoot close to 47 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown in the first half. This led to a 30-23 halftime lead for NCCC.
But Garden City would get as close as two points thanks to Mason Osborne splashing wide-open 3s, including two that put the score at 64-62. A few defensive efforts by NCCC over the next few minutes put Garden City in a situation in which they had to intentionally foul. With the score at 67-65, the Bronco Busters fouled Corbett Kimberlin, who made one but missed the second free throw with 22.7 seconds left in the game.
Though NCCC had the strategy of fouling intentionally to not allow Garden City shoot a 3, it got to a point when the score was 70-67 after Yang sank two clutch free throws. Osborne had a wide-open shot from straightaway, but missed.
Adup was fouled, and made two consecutive free throws to put the final score at 72-67.
“We could have freaked out and said, ‘Oh my gosh, here we are again; we’re in the same situation,’ but the guys stuck together,” Coombs said. “We called a timeout and said, ‘Look, let’s go back to what we do, forget about what was going on earlier,’ and I mean we are playing in the Jayhawk Conference, where there are great teams in this conference. So, night in and night out, we’re going to get that. We’re getting everybody’s best every single night. We’ve got to go through this as a team. And I thought they stuck together, and that was crucial.”
What was also crucial was that Breeland Jr., and guards Cargo and Kimberlin did a wondrous job in dribbling in spots – whether on the perimeter or deep in the paint – that were appropriate locations to make an effective pass to a shooter, a guy who can make a point-blank layup, or to a spot where a player could make an intelligent decision.
This decision-making led to 54 percent shooting for the game compared to just 44 percent shooting for Garden City. NCCC also out-rebounded the Bronco Busters 29 to 26.
The Panthers also didn’t shoot as many threes, going to their bread and butter. NCCC attempted just 12 three-pointers, while the defensive rotations for NCCC baited Garden City to attempt 23 shots from deep and make just eight.
NCCC (7-8, 3-3) will gear up to win its second game of 2020 versus Seward County (8-7, 1-5) Saturday, 5:30 pm at home.