KANSAS CITY — When the final buzzer went off Tuesday night at the NAIA national championship game, it marked the end of a remarkable run for the Columbia College men’s basketball team.
It just didn’t end the way the Cougars had envisioned.
Columbia College lost 77-61 to the Rocky Mountain (Mont.) College on Tuesday night at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
Between lights-out shooting and stifling defense, the Battlin’ Bears (28-9) didn’t give the Cougars (30-8) much of a chance. The Bears shot 59 percent in the first half, while holding the Cougars to 36 percent shooting. Also, the Bears outrebounded the Cougars 22-11 in the first half, while sprinting to a 45-24 halftime lead.
“They were really physical,” Columbia College coach Bob Burchard said. “They got out of the gates fast and threw the first punches.”
The second half didn’t get much better.
The Cougars struggled offensively, while the Bears continued to strive. The Bears shot only 41 percent in the second half, but it didn’t matter. They continued to control the boards, finishing with a 41-29 rebound advantage.
The Cougars' Christian Lewis scored 24 points, and Brett Hoskins scored 13. The Bears Devin Uskowksi scored 24.
“We had no answer for him,” Burchard said of Uskowski, the NAIA player of the year.
With five games in six days, the Cougars seemed worn out in the championship game. The Bears had one extra off day.
This was the first championship game that included two unseeded teams. Both finished second in their regular season conference standings.
After the game, the Cougars sat on the bench watching the award ceremony. Many had towels draped over their heads, trying to hide their emotions. The Cougars watched the Bears' Bill Dreikosen take home NAIA coach of the year, Uskowski player of the year, and a number of all-tournament team selections. Cougars senior Christian Lewis was named to the all-tournament team.
While the song “We are the Champions” played over the speakers after the ceremony, the Cougars slowly walked to their lockers, many with their heads down.
However, the Cougars had nothing to be ashamed of. The Cougars four wins in this year’s national tournament exceeded the three they had won in all its previous appearances in the tournament. They had never made it past the Sweet 16. Nobody knows better than Bob Burchard how hard it is to win at the national tournament.
“We talk about playing as long as they let you play,” Burchard smiled. “I don’t think there are any games planned tomorrow.”
Despite the struggles in the championship game, the group played as a team throughout the season. Lacking a star player, every night somebody else came up big for the team. One night senior Christian Lewis dominates in the paint. Another night senior Jason Ellis is the hot hand. Other nights, senior Brett Hoskins shows off his skill.
While the championship game outcome is not what they wanted, the Cougars said they realize they have accomplished a lot in Kansas City.
“Eventually it’s gonna hit us that we did something special,” Hoskins said. “At the moment, everybody’s disappointed though.”