PRATT — Experience playing in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference East all year and answers by Daniel Titus, Cougar Downing and Magic Reliford were far too much to handle for Pratt Community College in the first round of the Region VI playoffs.
These factors bombarded No. 4 seed Pratt all night, as the No. 5 seed Panthers won 89-85 to advance to the second round of the Region VI playoffs, beating the Beavers in the first round for the second year in a row. It’s also the second year in a row the Panthers have advanced in the tournament.
Titus, the sophomore big from Australia, dropped a career-high 31 points with 10 rebounds and was 11 of 14 from the foul line. Downing, a freshman guard from Olathe and son of all-time leading scorer Par Downing and brother of NCCC National tourney team member Tyson Downing, scored 23 points while shooting 3 of 6 from downtown. Reliford, one of the KJCCC’s top players out of Parsons, added 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
These players took advantage of mismatches. Every time Pratt substituted a big in, NCCC would put in their bigs Titus and De’Antray Hughes. If Pratt brought in a couple of bigs, the Panthers would put in just one and take advantage of guard play, which Downing and Reliford surely did. Pratt just didn’t have the personnel, as when their big guarded Hughes, Titus was left open.
“Coach before the start of the game told me that there was going to be mismatches everywhere,” Titus said. “They were a lot smaller than me. My shot wasn’t falling for me, so I just decided to attack the basket.”
That opportunity was also there because of the way Pratt was guarding Reliford early in the game. NCCC’s leading scorer, Reliford scored just four points in the first half because Pratt was guarding him at the full length of the floor, leading to three assists.
A lot of the floor opened up for Titus as he was hitting his shot, but was driving strong to the hoop, making layups or getting fouled, and playing well off of Reliford and Titus pick-and-rolls. Titus also played well in the post, as he was taking advantage of smaller defenders. His aggressive play led to draining 3 of 5 from the line in the first half.
Downing also continued his aggressive point guard play, bringing the ball up and using his variated crossover to create space in the middle of the floor and get to the line or hit 3s.
“When they get on a run and are more intense and are up on you more, so it’s easier for you to go by them – that sets everything up,” Downing said. “Also when they are more aggressive, they are more likely to foul. So if you are more aggressive to the basket, they’re going to be more aggressive back. You can expect to get to the free-throw line.”
Downing and Titus were the two players that seemed to always have answers when Pratt looked like it would go on a run. They were huge when it comes to efficiency, as the Panthers overall shot 51 percent in the first half. Titus, Downing and point guard Deondre Buggage all had 3s in the first half, while Pratt shot 31 percent with three 3s.
With the score 41-33 at the break, Downing came out of the locker room just as aggressive as he was in the first half. The freshman guard stroked a 3 off of a crossover to make the score 44-33 early in the second half. NCCC guard Tremaine Chesley then stole a pass and attempted a wide-open layup before being fouled; he made one free throw to make the score 45-33 NCCC.
By the 6:20 mark of the second half, Titus hit a one-on-one move, scoring a layup for an 8-2 run for NCCC.
But the game was going to be close. Pratt guard Malcolm Whitlow, who scored 27 in the first close game of the season between the teams, put the game at 70-69 NCCC with 5:24 to go after scoring five straight points.
A few plays later, Pratt’s Cam Morris drained a straightaway two, which put the score at 76-75 NCCC.
In a game that saw 11 lead changes and three ties, it was time for Reliford to put the game out of reach.
Reliford scored 11 straight points – a mix of dribble drives to the basket or crossovers that ended up as foul shots or baseline floaters. The onslaught put the Panthers up 83-75 with 45.9 seconds to go. Pratt fans were heckling Reliford all night. But he had the last laugh as he drained the free throws that took away any hope for a Beaver comeback.
“It was crunch time, you know. They needed me to score the ball, so somebody had to score – just had to win the game, that’s all, just trying to win,” Reliford said. “It was mismatches everywhere. Our bigs had mismatches. Our guards had mismatches. We just had to find them and abuse them.”
Reliford’s confidence comes from playing the tough KJCCC East all year. NCCC head coach Jeremy Coombs recognized that.
“The East was tough from top to bottom, and I think that prepared us for this game,” Coombs said. “This is a team that, they’re good no question, and they won a lot of games late. This West side was a toss-up with several teams. There are about three or four teams that we weren’t quite sure which direction we would go. And I just think that conference play in the East was so strong and it just prepared us for this.”
NCCC (9-14, 6-14) will next play No. 1 seed Cowley (18-4, 18-2) today at 7 pm on the road in the second round of Region VI play. The Panthers lost to Cowley 109-96 on March 20.
NC: 41 48 — 89
Pratt 33 52 — 85
Titus 31, Downing 23, Reliford 18, Chesley 9, Hughes 4, Buggage 4