KANSAS CITY — Columbia College guard Jason Ellis sat on the bench with a towel draped over his head, staring into the crowd. On his right, two empty seats. On his left, another. With his team down fifteen with just a few minutes to play, Ellis knew his team’s season would be over, but after the buzzer sounded, he couldn’t help but ask the obvious question: What if?
Playing without three of its post players, Columbia College couldn’t pick up the slack, falling to Azusa Pacific 61-47 in the first round of the NAIA Division I National Championship tournament Wednesday.
Azusa Pacific’s low-post tandem of 6-foot-5-inch Davon Roberts and 6-10 David Burgess hauled in 10 of the team’s 19 offensive rebounds as at least one of the suspended players, Christian Lewis, could only watch from a seat in the stands of Municipal Auditorium. Lewis, Jake Alexander and Jake Aguirre were all suspended for the remainder of the season Monday. Columbia police confirmed that Lewis and Alexander were arrested on suspicion of second-degree property damage, but could not confirm that Aguirre was arrested.
“It was huge,” Ellis said of the impact of the suspensions. “When you take a 6-5, a 6-6, and another 6-5 from us, it just really depletes our team.”
Columbia College shot just 29 percent from the field. Trae Hall was hassled all 31 minutes he was on the floor, finishing with just 13 points for the Cougars on 4-of-15 shooting, including 2-of-8 from 3-point range.
“Everybody, we as a team, struggled knocking down shots,” Hall said. “Other than that though, I think we played hard, and it was a good effort by our team.
Columbia College coach Bob Burchard said his team’s struggles on offense carried over to the defense, especially considering just nine players dressed.
“When you make shots, you really just get kind of a spring in your step,” Burchard said. “But when you work, you work, you work, and it doesn’t happen, well, then you’ve got to go back and work, so games like this are just one of those things.”
Although Columbia College will leave Kansas City without a win for the sixth consecutive time, Burchard said he was pleased with his team’s performance.
“We moved the ball and we played together,” Burchard said. “I was happy about that because I really was afraid somebody might feel extra pressure to take it all on themselves and get us out of the team concept.”
Columbia College finished the season 25-9.