However, that is exactly where the Tigers find themselves as they prepare to host Allen Community College Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in a game that could decide the conference title.
“This is a phenomenal group of young men, on and off the court,” Cowley head coach Tommy DeSalme said.
Circumstances out of DeSalme’s control led to his being away from his team for nearly a month. As a result of the uncertainty, Cowley had a tough first semester and entered Christmas break with a record of 2-12.
However, the team came back undaunted by the early season struggles and put together a four-game winning streak in the conference and are currently 6-3 in the Jayhawk East following a tough, 80-78 loss at Coffeyville on Wednesday.
The Tigers are in a three-way tie for first place with Coffeyville and Allen heading into Saturday’s home showdown with the Red Devils.
“The biggest change in the second semester is their confidence,” DeSalme said.
Cowley entered the 2014-15 season with only four players that were apart of last year’s squad. The four returning players were reserves as freshmen and did little through the team’s first 14 games
Since returning from Christmas break, sophomores Kaleb Ratliff and Cedric Johnson have stepped up their games dramatically. In the second semester, Ratliff is averaging 6.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. During that same time span, Johnson is averaging 7.2 points and 3.4 rebounds.
Fellow sophomore Austin Maxwell has also given the Tigers a lift off the bench and has made an astounding 19-of-22 shots from the floor since returning from Christmas Break, including going 7-for-7 with 16 points over the past two games.
“I am so happy for those three guys because they have been through some tough times and stuck it out,” DeSalme said. “They have played like sophomores should play here in the second semester.”
In the first semester the Tigers were led in scoring by freshmen Soufiyane Diakite (10.0 points) and Shyheid Petteway (8.4 points). While, those players are still providing the Tigers with solid minutes, freshmen like Dwight Richards and Terrell Gandy have come on strong in the second semester. Richards, who scored 28 points in Wednesday’s game at Coffeyville, has scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games and is averaging 12.8 points per game in the second semester, while Gandy has scored in double figures in three of his last five games and is averaging 8.0 points over the past 13 games.
Sophomore transfer Tray Wheeler (7.6 points, 2.4 assists) has done a stellar job running the offense and has provided the team with tremendous leadership, while freshman Mason Loewen has been a steady presence and is averaging 9.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
Guard Jarvis Cannon (6.2 points) has also provided the team with a lift, while Jamon Fulton, Jordan Burgess, Alexander Garvin, and Clay Morgan have played valuable roles off the bench.
It truly has been a team effort in helping the Tigers go 8-5 overall and 6-3 in the Jayhawk East in the second semester.
“The chemistry of the team is really good,” DeSalme said. “They get along and care for one another, which makes it enjoyable for me.”
A conference title would be the Tigers first since the 2009-2010 season and would go down as one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of the basketball program.
Cowley lost by one-point (75-74) at Allen back on January 14. The Red Devils are led by Courtney Stockard (22.7 points per game) and Josh Sweet (19.0 points per game).
Allen is averaging 80 points per game, while the Tigers average 74 points per contest.
“I expect it to be a fun game,” DeSalme said. “We need an unreal crowd Saturday night because it is a huge game.”
Click here to view the digital edition
2014 Rural Messenger