COLUMBIA — When McKendree’s T.J. Stone hit a running jumper as the shot clock expired, with two Cougars draped on either side of him, Columbia College coach Bob Burchard kept smiling.
When McKendree’s Eric Palm managed to score on a driving layup underneath the goal with three Cougars trying to stop him, Burchard kept smiling. Even when Palm stuck again with a game-winning fadeaway while being fouled to give McKendree a 73-70 win, Burchard kept smiling. Despite being denied both a regular season conference title and his 500th win at Columbia College, Burchard kept on smiling.
There is one thing that will wipe that grin off his face real quick, though.
“When Coach sees us not playing at 100 percent, and not giving everything we’ve got, he’ll really jump on us,” the Cougars’ Jason Ellis said.
After Palm hit his sixth three in six attempts within the game’s first 12 minutes to give McKendree a 30-21 lead, Burchard saw one of those moments.
“I thought there were a lot of 50/50 balls tonight that we could have had,” Burchard said. “This was not a game to reach, this was a game to dive.”
Other than Palm’s 3-point barrage, Burchard said he was pleased with his team’s effort, specifically Trae Hall, who led the Cougars with 21 points.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to answer in a game that was played at that high of a level, percentage-wise,” Burchard said. “If you’re playing horseshoes, and a guy starts throwing ringers, you’ve got to lay one on top of him. If you don’t, you’re not going to win.”
McKendree shot 13-of-16 from beyond the arc, highlighted by Palm, who led the Bearcats with 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
“He’s a great player, you can’t take any shortcuts on him,” Columbia College’s Terrell Turner said. “He’s also a guy who can put the ball on the floor though, and when he does that, he causes a lot of havoc.”
Although the win gives McKendree the conference title and homecourt advantage throughout next week’s American Midwest Conference Tournament, the level at which the Cougars are playing has Burchard flashing his signature smile.
“One thing I always tell my guys is that somewhere along the line, you’re going to be playing the game at a high level, it’s going to be a war, it’s going to be people making plays,” Burchard said. “You lay it all out there, and you fall short. You just fall short. You tell your guys, well, okay, that was amazing, it just didn’t happen. You say that as a coach, but I really felt that in this game, it was just two good teams going head to head.”