Michael Cook's birthday was a happy one. His Fort Scott Community College basketball team defeated Labette 54-42 Saturday afternoon at Arnold Arena, giving his team a key tie-breaker over the Cardinals in Region VI Tournament Division I seeding and perhaps avoiding a long, long trip for a first-round tournament game.
For Region VI seeding, ignore results against Johnson County and Highland because both are Division II teams. This results in Fort Scott having a 2-7 record against the other eight Division I schools, tying them for the No. 6 seed with Allen County. Labette, which also lost to Fort Scott, 61-57, in Parsons on January 5, is currently the last seed at 0-8.
The eighth seed would have to go to Seward County if the playoff began today. The Saints lead the Western Division -- which doesn't have any Division II schools -- by three games. So finishing even seventh could result in playing a team with a more manageable record.
"We know we don't want to play Seward," Cook said. "Even though we know we can play with Seward, we don't want to travel that way. If we can play a third a fourth seed on the other side -- Cloud, Barton, Butler -- I think good things can happen for us."
Fort Scott is also tied with Allen County in the East at 2-9 (Fort Scott is 3-19 overall, Allen is 5-17). Labette is 0-11 in the East and 2-21 overall.
The Greyhounds broke a 7-game losing streak with this victory -- they'd also lost 7 straight in conference and 7 straight at home. Labette's losing streak was extended to 9 games overall, 11 in conference and 11 at home.
Fort Scott defeated Labette for the third straight time going back to last season. However, the 'Hounds have lost 42 of their last 46 games overall with the only other victory in that span coming over Division II North Central Missouri on December 6 of this season.
But other than at 2-0, the Greyhounds never trailed. They scored 10 straight to take the lead for good, sparked by Menas (Nas) Stephens' performance off the bench and Alex Barner breaking out of a slump.
"Nas is going to be up and down but I thought his energy was great as far as attacking the basket," Cook said. "He played three positions tonight so to see him go to the boards like he did and take care of offensive boards, I thought was outstanding."
The 'Hounds scored 14 of the final 16 points of the half in the final 6:22 to go into the locker room with a 29-16 lead. That was already just one point shy of their total for the entire game when they last played, a 69-30 loss to Coffeyville on January 29, which was the second-lowest total for an FSCC team in any game since 1945.
Cook said that when Wednesday's game at Johnson County was snowed out -- it was rescheduled for Monday night -- it gave the staff extra time it wouldn't normally have to work on things.
"We needed some time to make some adjustments," he said. "It gave us a chance to walk through stuff, what's open and what's not."
The 'Hounds scored 11 of the first 13 of the second half in extending the lead to 40-18. And some started to wonder if the Cardinals were going to be able to get to 30 points.
By the time Randy Lokemba scored his first field goal of the night to break Fort Scott's run, Labette had gone 11 minutes, 38 seconds between field goals.
Lokemba served as a spark for the Cards after not scoring at all in the first half. He scored the last 8 points of a 18-6 run 6 on a pair of 3-point goals -- that brought the Cardinals within 46-36 with 6:08 remaining.
"When we got it up to 22, the guys started trying to take their time and thinking (Labette) was going to quit," Cook said. "And we talked to them in the media time out that teams aren't going to quit against us. Teams are going to play hard. This is the Jayhawk Conference. They're going to go hard every night. And when you see the mistakes they made ... we were holding the ball and letting them trap us."
Stephens scored back-to-back baskets for the 'Hounds to snap them out of their funk somewhat, making it 50-36. Ritea Acosta scored Labette's last field goal of the game with 3:06 left, which made it 52-40.
Stephens scored again with 1:37 to go and the rest of the game was put in the defense's hands, which responded by allowing only a pair of Acosta free throws with 36 seconds left.
"We played four defenses tonight," Cook said. "We changed it up to show them we can do different things besides play man-to-man."
Stephens, who averages 7 points a game. led the Greyhounds with 18 while Barner added 16. The two combined to make 15 of 20 field goals and haul down 4 rebounds. Acosta led Labette with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 7 steals.
Fort Scott shot 46 percent from the field, making 23 of 51 field-goal attempts. Labette made just 14 of 57 shots for 25 percent.
The 'Hounds also outrebounded Labette, 55-36, as Teance Walton hauled down 17 boards. Julian Mills dished 6 assists and picked up 3 steals.
The Greyhounds will host Neosho County Wednesday night at 7:30 at Arnold Arena. The Panthers (4-4 Div. I, 6-5 East, 12-11 overall) lost to Highland 91-68 Saturday afternoon and faced Labette in a make-up game at Chanute Monday night.
LABETTE: A.Smith 3-9 0-0 7, Bray 0-3 0-0 0, Fleeks 0-10 2-2 2, T.Smith 1-5 2-4 4, Lokemba 3-11 2-2 10, Acosta 7-15 5-6 19, Hatchett 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas 0-3 0-0 0. TOTALS: 14-57 11-14 42.
FORT SCOTT: Mason 3-17 0-1 8, Stephens 7-9 4-4 18, Mills 2-2 0-2 4, Carter 0-3 2-3 2, Barner 8-11 0-1 16, Trost 0-0 0-0 0, Hayes 0-1 0-0 0, Walton 3-7 0-0 6, Flowers 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 23-51 6-11 54.
Halftime: Fort Scott, 29-16.
Three-point field goals: Labette 3-15 (Lokemba 2-4, A.Smith 1-5, Bray 0-2, Fleeks 0-4), Fort Scott 2-7 (Mason 2-7).
Total fouls: Labette 15, Fort Scott 12. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None.
Rebounds: Labette 36 (Acosta 10), Fort Scott 55 (Flowers 17). Assists: Labette 3 (3 with 1 each), Fort Scott 13 (Mills 6). Turnovers: Labette 11, Fort Scott 16. Steals: Labette 10 (Acosta 7), Fort Scott 7 (Mills 3). Blocked shots: Labette 7 (T.Smith 5), Fort Scott 2 (Barner 2).