COLUMBIA — After scrambling for a steal, McKendree made the layup to hand the Columbia College men's basketball team a devastating 57-55 loss Thursday night at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
With about a minute left in the game, Columbia College forward Jaron Strickland was fouled as he dribbled down the lane for a layup. Strickland made both of the free-throws giving the Cougars a 55-53 edge. Then McKendree's Brad Copelin sent the crowd into a frenzy after weaving through the Cougars' defense and tying up the score yet again. With 13 seconds left on the clock, McKendree's Andy Wolff made the crucial steal and passed the ball to Copelin for the winning shot.
“I thought we did a good job to come back,” Cougars’ coach Bob Burchard said. “Then we obviously made some mistakes at the end and it cost us the game ultimately.”
The Bearcats’ defense got off to a good start and forced the Cougars into three straight turnovers in the beginning of the first half to give the Bearcats a 7-0 lead.
However, four minutes into the game, forward Jordan Dressler rained in a hook shot to break the Cougars' dry spell. Dressler continued to score, igniting the Cougars’ offense and leading the team with 17 points, 14 of which came in the first half. The Cougars ended the first half with a 29-22 lead.
“We really made a concerted effort to get the ball inside,” Burchard said. “I think Jordan Dressler had a real nice stretch in there. I think we just did a better job of getting the ball where it needed to be.”
In the second half, however, the Cougars fell victim to the speed and accuracy of the Bearcats. Strickland did his best to help his team regain momentum and finished the game with 15 points.
“Strickland really does a nice job off the dribble,” Burchard said. “We thought we could get him isolated and some space, and we did. I thought he did a nice job of finishing”
Columbia College’s lackluster defense could not stop the Bearcats' 3-pointers. The Bearcats shot 33.3 percent from the arc, while the Cougars shot 10 percent.
“I really thought we played pretty solid, not great, just solid through the first half,” Burchard said. “Then in the second half, I thought we got off to a really good start, and then the momentum switched on us a bit. We just didn’t play at the level we really needed to.”
The Cougars’ shot 55.6 percent from the free-throw line, contributing to the close loss. In the second half, the Cougars were eight out of 14 on free throws. Two technical fouls on Dressler and the bench in the second half sparked the Bearcats’ offense.
The Cougars (20-4) came into the game tied for first in the American Midwest Conference with Park University and ranked 14th in NAIA’s Division I Coaches Top 25. The loss ended the Cougars’ six-game winning streak.
The Cougars play next at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hannibal-LaGrange.