COLUMBIA — The Cougars got a big boost from their bench in Saturday's 78-59 win over William Woods at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
"I thought our young guards really played well, particularly in the second half," Cougars coach Bob Burchard said.
With about three minutes left in the game and Columbia College already leading 72-56, freshman guard Devin Griffin wanted the ball. Griffin weaved through William Woods' defense for a layup attempt.
The ball bounced side to side off the rim. Just when it seemed as if the ball was going to trickle out, sophomore forward Hal Payne emerged down the lane and the Owls scrambled to defend against him.
But it was too late. Payne nudged it in for two points and a foul was called.
The crowd erupted. A huge smile appeared on Griffin's face as he pointed to Payne. Payne sank the free-throw for an additional point.
"I was very happy with the lift we got late in the game," Burchard said. " I thought Hal Payne did a really nice job for us. His length really bothered them. Devin Griffin came in and gave us a nice lift, as well."
With the win over William Woods, the Columbia College men's basketball team shares the regular season title for the American Midwest Conference with McKendree. Under Burchard, the Cougars have won 8 AMC titles, the last came in 2006.
"I thought we defended very well, early in particular," Burchard said. "I was happy with the pace of the game. They did a nice job, but we just went through some stretches where we couldn't get as much point separation."
The Cougars started and finished strong, not trailing in the game or letting the Owls get closer than four points. Junior forward Taylor Evans ignited the offense in the first half, leading the Cougars' scorers with eight points and five rebounds. Columbia College ended the first half up 32-24.
The Cougars' points came from nine players, but the Owls only had four main contributors. William Woods had only two players scoring in the double digits.
Freshman guard Wendell Crowder led the Cougars scorers with 17 points. Junior guard Henrique Medeirosscored 13 points, and Evans added 11 points.
The Owls' Logan Decker pulled down a game-high 20 points.
The Cougars finished the regular season at 25-4 overall with a 12-2 American Midwest Conference record.
Columbia College will have the No. 2 seed in the postseason tournament. The AMC Tournament quarterfinal games will begin Thursday, and the semifinal games will start Saturday.
"It's going to be tough," Cougars senior forward Greg Stegeman said. "We've got a couple of hard games coming up in the tournament. Every team in our league is a pretty good team."