COLUMBIA — This time of year, teams start fighting for the right to play another day every time they step on the floor. When that happens, games get physical. Columbia College’s 76-69 win over Illinois-Springfield on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the American Midwest Conference tournament at Southwell Complex was one of those games.
For Cougars senior Mikel Fields, that’s nothing new.
“From now on, it’s going to be like this every single night,” Fields said. “Everybody wants to see their season kept alive.”
Maybe it takes putting Joe Flanner on his back with a forearm shiver while he tries to take a charge. Maybe it takes getting tangled up with Terrell Turner and grabbing a technical foul. Whatever it takes, it wasn’t enough for Illinois-Springfield, who now must play the waiting game to see if they get one of 32 bids in the NAIA National Championship in two weeks.
“Tonight they really tried to control the tempo,” Columbia College’s Jason Ellis said of the full-court pressure applied by Illinois-Springfield for most of the game. “We were able to slow it down though, do what we do on the defensive end, execute on offense and get the win,”
For the reason why, look no further than Fields. The 6-foot-7 forward from Columbia scored all of his team-high 16 points in the second half on 6-of-6 shooting, including six points in the game’s final minute. Fields deflected credit to the Cougar bench, though, highlighted by junior Miroslav Lukic’s 12 points.
“All season long, that’s been the strength of our team,” Fields said. “It’s 12 deep on our team, while on other teams, it might just be six or seven.”
Cougars coach Bob Burchard was also impressed with the Serbian guard’s play.
“I thought Miroslav really looked comfortable,” Burchard said. “That’s the most confident I’ve seen him in a long time,”
With the win, Columbia College will get a third shot at No. 10 McKendree, a team they lost to just over a week ago for the American Midwest Conference regular season title.
“They’re excited about having another chance to play for a championship,” Burchard said. “This is what you work for. We had one chance, but now we’ve got another chance.”