With less than a month remaining in the regular season the Casper College Thunderbirds are figuring out how to change their flight pattern.
The National Junior Collegiate Athletics Association suspended T-Birds’ leading scorer Kenard Richardson for the rest of the season and the Casper College administration parted ways with assistant coach Carlos Taylor after both were involved in altercations at the end of Casper College’s overtime loss at Northwest College on Jan. 21.
Richardson was averaging 19.8 points per game before his suspension.
“It’s not very often you have to figure out a way to make up for that,” Casper College head coach Shaun Gutting said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s just our reality right now.”
In the first game following the incidents the T-Birds held on for an 88-85 victory at Central Wyoming College last week. They made it two in a row Wednesday night with a 100-69 rout of Eastern Wyoming College at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym.
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Sophomore guard Dalton Peterson was 6-for-8 from behind the arc and finished with 22 points to lead five players in double figures. The T-Birds also had five double-digit scorers in their win over at CWC.
“We all have to chip in a little bit more,” Peterson said. “It’s not one guy scoring those 20 by himself, it’s going to take everybody sharing the ball and making shots. We just have to move the ball and get everybody two, three more shots a game in places where they’re comfortable scoring it.”
Peterson and the T-Birds (17-5, 2-1 Region IX North) found their sweet spot early in the second half Wednesday. After the Lancers scored the first two buckets to cut Casper College’s lead to 44-34, the T-Birds went on an 11-0 run to retake control.
Nestor Dyachok got things started with a putback, followed by back-to-back 3-pointers from Peterson and one by Jaren Harris to push the lead to 55-34. All three of the long-range shots were from the same spot on the floor.
The T-Birds maintained a 20- to 30-point advantage the rest of the way.
“I think everybody has taken on a bigger role knowing that someone’s going to have to score,” sophomore guard Jamison Epps said. “It’s going to be a little bit harder to put the points up, but if we do it together it’s easy to make that 20 up.”
Casper College was able to do that with a balanced attack in which all 10 players broke into the scoring column.
The teams traded baskets in the first 10 minutes with neither team leading by more than three points. The T-Birds were finally able to create some distance in the final 4 minutes of the half with an 11-0 run as Peterson made two 3-pointers, freshman guard Tyler Pacheco had an old-fashioned three-point play and freshman Darius Robinson added a bucket.
“We’re still trying to figure this out,” Gutting admitted. “You’ll see possessions where we get really stagnant, where we slow down and we’re not sure what to run. Kenard could bail us out in those situations by just scoring.
“So it’s a challenge to us to have really good pace when we run our offense. We have to be engaged just knowing that we need to run stuff when we can’t get anything in transition.”
Without Richardson and with freshman guard Sayhan Yetkin (6.9 points per game) out with an injury, the remaining T-Birds not only need to provide points but will have to play added minutes. Pacheco, who had played in just eight games all season, provided a spark off the bench in the first half with five points in eight minutes. The former Kelly Walsh standout finished with seven points in 18 minutes.
“TP came in and gave us great minutes,” Epps said/ “It was great to see him do that and give him some confidence.
“It’s good to see those guys that don’t get to play too much come in and produce. They’re in practice grinding every day just like we are, so for them to get out there and do that … I was more happy for them to score than they probably were.”
That was evident in the final minutes when Pacheco hit a runner in the lane followed by Vinnie Spradling, a freshman guard from Big Horn, making a 3-pointer for the final points as the starters on the bench celebrated.
Gutting knows the T-Birds are going to need that kind of effort and production moving forward.
“There are no excuses for not being able to produce at this point because nobody is in your way,” he said. “Everybody has to play. We don’t have enough bodies to bury anybody on the bench right now.”
In addition to Peterson’s 22-point night, the T-Birds also got 17 from Dyachok, 16 from Harris, 15 from Darius Robinson and 11 from Epps.
“We’re not as deep as we were,” Peterson noted. “Our mantra now is, ‘It’s going to take everybody.’ It was a team win tonight. We’re just going to have to keep doing that.”
The T-Birds face Western Wyoming Community College on Saturday in Rock Springs.