COLUMBIA — The Columbia College men's basketball team has been studying hard.
Through the first half of the conference schedule, the Cougars only won two games. They opened conference play with a loss on the road to Williams Baptist. But their second meeting Thursday night in Columbia had a much different outcome. The Cougars ran past the Eagles 75-51 at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
"Obviously the first round wasn't very positive for us," Columbia College coach Bob Burchard said. "I would liken that to taking a first test and doing really poorly. We've been studying really hard and now on these next tests, the second round, our goal is to improve how we do."
Williams Baptist came out shooting hot in the first half, draining eight 3-pointers. A 12-0 run by the Cougars in the middle of the first half gave them their first lead, and they never trailed after that.
"It was fun," Cougars forward Greg Stegeman said. "A lot of fun playing, and I thought we played one of our best games of the season."
Stegeman finished with a double-double scoring, a team-high 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
The Cougars' win moves them to 9-15 overall and 3-5 in the American Midwest Conference. Entering the second half of the conference schedule, Burchard said his team is moving in the right direction.
"I think we feel good about ourselves," Burchard said. "I think anytime you play together well and have some positive feedback, your confidence grows."
In the first half, the Eagles (10-13, 3-5) were shooting 44.4 percent from behind the arc and 40 percent from the floor. It required controlled offense by the Cougars to offset the sharpshooting Eagles.
"At the beginning I wasn't feeling really good about it because they were hitting 3s," Burchard said. "It was like every one that they rose up, they hit. But then I thought we did a better job and we got the ball around the basket a lot."
Going into halftime, the Cougars held a 10-point lead, which they maintained for the rest of the game.
"Our offensive patience was really strong," Burchard said. "If we had just gone down there and missed shots it would have led to, I think, some potential for that lead disappearing on us, and this team didn't do that."
The Cougars shot 66 percent from the floor in their patient half-court offense while the Eagles struggled to get the ball in the hoop, falling to a 31.7 percent average for the game.
Five Cougars finished in double digits, Stegeman (18), Chard Thompson (15), Aleksander Eric (12), Josh Davis (10) and Quintin Totta (10).
With a slow-down mentality on offense, the Cougars controlled the pace of the game against a heavy press defense for the entire second half.
"I think we played hard, shared the ball," Davis said. "Mainly what we've been focusing on is defense, limiting their shots, not giving them offensive rebounds, not letting them hit the three. Second half, I think we did that."
It's a game plan that needs to be just as effective in their next game Saturday at Park University (14-7, 7-1), which is ranked 24th in the NAIA and in second place in the AMC.
"Park is very aggressive, very athletic," Burchard said. "They've got strong, quick guards. Our challenge is going to be to handle the up-front pressure and then be able to do what we did tonight against a different style defense. To do that we're going to have to be very strong with the ball and we're going to have to be very disciplined.
"Staying with the test analogy. If you put in some good work, do well on a test, you have confidence going into the next one."