COLUMBIA – The Columbia College men's basketball team couldn't help feeling encouraged.
Led by a sophomore and a junior on senior night, the Cougars defeated Harris-Stowe 65-57 Thursday at The Arena of Southwell Complex.
The team as been struggling to find its footing all season. With a bench whittled down to a shallow eight-man rotation, the Cougars are finally playing with some bite.
“I think you need to become a team sometime,” Cougars coach Bob Burchard said. “And I think we’re closer now that we’ve ever been.”
One road trip away from the American Midwest Conference tournament, the Cougars are 11-18 overall and in a three-way tie for fourth in the AMC at 5-8.
The Cougars down year could be attributed to the seven men they lost from the 2009 team, which was 10-4 in conference play, won the AMC tournament and had a run to the NAIA Final Four in Kansas City. This year, however, the young Cougars will only be losing two seniors.
Although senior forward Quintin Totta, who leads the team in points and 3-point baskets, will not be returning, he sees great leadership potential in his younger teammates.
“Greg Stegeman and Taylor Evans,” Totta said, “Greg’s been here. This is his third year, he’ll be a senior next year. It’ll be a chance for him to lead and same with Taylor. They were both here last year for the run all the way to the final four.”
Junior Aleksander Eric had his second straight double-digit scoring night Thursday with team-high 16 points. Evans, a sophomore, finished with 12 points and Totta had 10 points.
Stegeman leads the team in blocks and rebounds this season, and had a team-high 10 rebounds in Thursday's win over the Hornets.
The Cougars play William Woods at 4 p.m. Saturday in Fulton and are looking for three wins in a row for the first time this season. They say they aren’t backing down.
“We’re not going to lay down against anybody here going into the conference tournament,” Stegeman said. “We want to win it all, we want to get back to the national tournament."