LEBANON, ILL. – Nobody wins at McKendree.
It’s not uncommon to hear visiting fans voice their frustrations as they exit the Melvin Price Convocation Center, considering No. 10 McKendree entered Saturday night’s game with No. 15 Columbia College with a 16-1 home record. Those words rang especially true for Columbia College Saturday night.
The Cougars fell 75-71 in the championship of the American Midwest Conference tournament.
A Jason Ellis 3-pointer with 7:19 to play gave the Columbia College a 61-50 lead, and the Cougars appeared to be well on their way to an AMC tournament title, if not for McKendree’s Eric Palm.
Palm, who was honored as the conference’s player of the year in a ceremony after the game, scored 13 of his game-high 32 points after Ellis’ 3-pointer.
“We had a little bit of a shift put on us there,” Burchard said. “When that shift came at us, we just didn’t answer.”
McKendree used a 22-8 run after Ellis’3-pointer to take control of the game, highlighted by a breakaway slam by Ken Detmer with just 2:06 remaining to give the Bearcats a 70-69 lead, their first since the 12:19 mark of the first half.
Trae Hall, Columbia College’s leading scorer, was held to just seven points on 2-of-6 shooting, and because of foul trouble, played just 19 minutes. Ellis, however, picked up the slack for the Cougars, leading Columbia College off the bench with 15 points.
“Once Trae picked up that fourth foul, I knew right there somebody on our team needed to step up and try to be be that X-factor,” Ellis said. “Tonight was just my turn, I guess.”
With the loss, Columbia College won’t earn an automatic bid to the NAIA Division I National Championship, but the Cougars are expected to receive an at-large bid into the 32-team field when the bracket is released on Wednesday. The tournament will begin on March 19.
“I don’t think we’ve reached the top of our game,” Burchard said. “We could be in here all weepy-eyed because we’re not going to play anymore, but we’ve still got practice out in front of us and a lot of work to do.”
COUGARS EARN POSTSEASON HONORS
After Columbia College’s 75-71 loss Saturday night at McKendree, several Cougars earned American Midwest Conference honors:
Trae Hall, senior, Tulsa, Okla.
Honorable Mention All-Conference
Christian Lewis, junior, Lincoln, Neb.
Miroslav Lukic, junior, Sabac, Serbia
Joe Flanner, junior, Belton, Mo.
Brett Hoskins, junior, Bardwell, Ky.
Greg Stegeman, freshman, Loose Creek, Mo.