COLUMBIA — The Columbia College men's basketball team, the Cougars, struggled through a rough first half but defeated the Missouri Baptist Spartans 78-57 on Thursday night at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
"We tried to move the ball better and be a little bit more active," Cougars coach Bob Burchard said. "We got crowded a bit, and then we got our space a little bit better. We played together better in the second half."
With 1:37 left in the second half, Cougars guard Wendell Crowder made a steal, then raced past the Spartans for a slam dunk that crashed through the rim loudly enough to be heard over the screaming crowd. Forward Hal Payne followed Crowder's lead shortly afterward by weaving around the Spartans' defense and making another slam dunk to bring the Columbia College lead to 76-56.
The Cougars made sure to put pressure on the Spartans leading scorer Le Andre' Johnson, who entered the game with a 53 percent shooting average, limiting him to a 36.4 shooting for the night.
"Le Andre's a very good scorer," Burchard said. "We tried to put different guys on him, so we wouldn't just get caught in a one-on-one matchup all the time."
The Cougars had a slow start against the Spartans' tough zone defense in the first half, making only 10 of their first 30 attempts. Forward Greg Stegeman was fouled hard, resulting in a nose bleed that put a momentary pause on the game.
Columbia College left the Spartans unprotected on the arc and allowed four 3-pointers in the first half, the last gave Missouri Baptist a 31-30 halftime advantage.
Taylor Evans' offensive hustle helped Columbia College regain the lead. After the Spartans were called for traveling on two consecutive possessions, Evans short jumper put the Cougars ahead 44-43, and they never trailed again.
"Greg and Jordan (Dressler) did a good job setting picks, really just to get us open," Evans said. "We told them 'we're going to get low, just set a pick for us.'"
Crowder led the Cougars with 16 points, and Evans scored 15. Stegeman pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Cougars shot 79.2 percent from the free-throw line, redeeming themselves after losing 57-55 to visiting McKendree on Feb. 10 when they shot only 55.6 percent from the line.
Columbia College plays next in a makeup game at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Williams Baptist in Walnut Ridge, Ark.
"We got a busy week. We are going to focus this weekend on getting better," Burchard said. "We'll play out this week and see where it takes us."