COLUMBIA — Playing the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City has had its advantages for the Columbia College men’s basketball team.
During its first three games in the tournament, the crowd was clearly an advantage for the Cougars. Fans from Missouri were pulling for their home state team.
Columbia College (30-7) vs.
Rocky Mountain (Mont.) (27-9)
WHEN: 8:50 p.m.
WHERE: Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City
That is until Monday night’s game against a team from Missouri’s border state.
In Monday night’s semifinal game against MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, the crowd seemed to be singing a different tune. The Pioneers had the crowd on its side.
Being closer to home helped.
The Cougars ignored the crowd and played their game. In the end, the pro-Kansas crowd was silenced after a 60-56 win by the Cougars. After the game, “CC” chants controlled the building.
Now the Cougars are one win away from capturing a championship ring.
To get that ring, the Cougars (30-7) must beat the Rocky Mountain Bears (27-9) in the NAIA national championship game at 8:50 p.m. Tuesday night at Municipal Auditorium.
“The crowd really had a part to the game,” coach Bob Burchard said. “I think it affected us a bit in the first half. The guys were going a little too fast out there.”
Coming into the game, the Cougars were at another disadvantage. They didn't have a lot of experience winning at the national tournament. The Pioneers had made the Final Four for the fourth consecutive season, while the Cougars had never made it past the Sweet 16 until this season's run. Granted, the Pioneers had their success at the Division II level of NAIA. This was the first season the Pioneers played at the Division I level.
Both teams came out firing early, with the Cougars jumping to an early 24-17 lead. However, both teams cooled off at the end of the first half and at halftime the game was tied at 28.
The Cougars were helped when Pioneers leading-scorer Danny Hawkins was injured. Coming into the game averaging more than 21 points per game, Hawkins was held to nine points, all in the first half.
In the second half, Cougars senior Christian Lewis carried the Cougars, scoring eight straight points for his team late in the half. Lewis finished with 21 points and Brett Hoskins scored 14.
In the Cougars previous two games Lewis was out with foul trouble much of the time. This game he stayed on the court and he let his presence be felt.
“Can’t say enough about him. We couldn’t hit a shot, but we could give it to him (Lewis) down low,” senior Terrell Turner said. “Tonight he was really big for us.”
Turner, who hadn’t made a shot all game, had to go to the line with 22 second left. He hit both to put the Cougars up 58-53, and all but sealed the game.
Celebration hugs ensued, and the Cougars are now one win away from etching their name into history.
“I don’t have the words to describe it,” Lewis said. “One more.”
When asked how it felt to be one win away from a title, Turner said with a big smile. “I’ll tell you that tomorrow.”